BARCELONA (Reuters) - More good news for drinkers — imbibing regularly may halve your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, according to scientists.
New research presented at the annual European Congress of Rheumatology on Friday showed drinking at least three units of alcohol a week had clear protective effects and 10 units brought more protection still.
One unit is roughly equivalent to a glass of wine or a small beer.
Previous studies have indicated alcohol may also have a beneficial role in heart disease, stroke, some forms of cancer and perhaps Alzheimer’s.
Henrik Kallberg of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm said his research showed consuming three or more units was associated with a 50 percent drop in the risk in developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
That was enough to offset the risk of developing RA caused by smoking or genetic factors, according to his analysis of 2,075 Swedes with and without the crippling joint disorder.
Although more work is needed to unravel the science behind the connection, Kallberg said it was likely that alcohol suppressed the immune system and damped down the inflammatory process behind the condition.
“These data now show not only that alcohol can protect against RA and reduce the risk conferred by smoking or susceptible genes, but also give an idea of the relevant doses necessary,” he said.
Tore Kvien, president of the European League Against Rheumatism, said the findings were “very interesting” but needed to be confirmed by other studies, and he warned excessive drinking caused a number of other medical problems.
RA, which is distinct from the more common osteoarthritis, is a degenerative inflammatory disorder in which the body’s own immune system attacks joint tissues, leading to swelling, tenderness and increasing disability.
It affects more than 20 million people worldwide.