Alcohol Consumption and RA

Last updated: May 2023

Stay with me here: I think there's a surprisingly intricate relationship between alcohol and RA. Don't get me wrong; I love occasionally indulging in a drink after a difficult day, so my intention here is not to judge. But lately, I have been realizing that my RA-riddled body is not cooperating well--at all--with alcohol, even with only drinking a small amount.

Alcohol intolerance before my diagnosis

Even before I was diagnosed with RA, my body did not cooperate well with alcohol. I noticed that after I would have a few drinks, I would begin to have some symptoms of alcohol intolerance. These included: facial flushing, congestion, and general nausea and upset stomach. This wasn't a full on allergic reaction. Sometimes, I wouldn't even notice it in myself, but other people in my life would say something ("why is your face so red?"; "you're really congested all of a sudden").

How drinking impacted my RA symptoms

Things took a turn, though, after I was diagnosed with RA. Now after a night of drinking--and to be clear, I am talking about even just one drink (it's rare that I have more than that) I find that my joints feel more inflamed, I move at a sluggish pace, and I feel bloated/swollen all over.

To be clear, this is not a hungover feeling--it feels much different than that. This feels more like an RA flare or a Humira hangover, which I've talked about both before. Because of how I've been feeling recently, I've decided to not drink for a few weeks and see how I feel. The results have been surprising.

Experimenting with abstaining from alcohol

I haven't had a drink in about 3 weeks now, and I really do feel better. I feel more energized, my joints don't feel as inflammed, and I just have a generally brighter disposition. This is important for me because I have not been feeling the best lately. That's not because I drink a lot, but more because my RA has been affecting me more. While I was drinking, it made me think there was a real connection between alcohol consumption and RA.

Medical research findings

But this is just my personal experience. What does the medical research say? According to the Arthritis Foundation, small to moderate alcohol can actually help those who suffer from RA.1 In some studies, moderate wine consumption actually helped prevent women in Sweden from developing RA, while in some studies, heavy alcohol consumption negatively affected those already diagnosed with RA because it increases the amount of inflammation present in the body, in addition to the inflammation already in the body from RA.2

The varied relationship between alcohol and RA

Clearly, the relationship to alcohol when you have RA is varied. In my experience, even 1 drink can hurt my RA--maybe this is because my inflammation levels are already so high that even 1 drink can increase the inflammation already present in my body. Yet, the literature on this subject seems to indicate that low alcohol consumption can actually reduce inflammation. In my thinking, then, your relationship to alcohol and RA really depends on your body and your experience in drinking.

I've had to modulate my relationship to alcohol given my personal bodily experiences; what have you experienced with alcohol?

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