TUESDAY, July 10 (HealthDay News) -- Drinking more than three alcoholic beverages a week for at least 10 years may halve a woman's risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, according to a large new study from Sweden.
The findings, which appear online July 10 in the journal BMJ, add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that moderate alcohol consumption may have health benefits.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body engages in friendly fire -- attacking its own joints and tissues. According to the Arthritis Foundation, about 1.3 million people in the United States have rheumatoid arthritis, which disproportionately strikes women. Family history is a risk factor for developing the condition. Other than quitting smoking, little is known about how to lower the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
The new study included more than 34,000 Swedish women born between 1914 and 1948. Researchers gathered information about their alcohol consumption, diet, smoking history, physical activity and education in 1987 and 1997. Participants were then followed for seven years. During this time, nearly 200 women were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
Women who reported drinking more than three glasses of alcohol per week in both 1987 and 1997 were 52 percent less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than their teetotaling counterparts.
A difference in risk, although less marked, existed when light drinkers were included with nondrinkers. In that case, women who drank more than more four glasses of alcohol per week had a 37 percent lower risk for rheumatoid arthritis.
These findings held regardless of whether women consumed wine, spirits or beer. In the study, a standard glass of alcohol was defined as approximately a pint of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.7 ounces of liquor.
Exactly how alcohol may lower arthritis risk is not
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