To Drink or not to Drink, That is the Question

Well, I’m sitting in one of the original brewpubs in the Southwest, also my favorite breakfast spot in town, Carver Brewing Company, staring at a wall of liquor. For most of my life, that’s all I would do, stare, but today I may actually partake. Lately, I’ve been drinking a bit of wine, and occasionally sipping some whiskey if I feel like it. Right now, I’m not taking any medication that would make alcohol a contraindication, my insomnia is under control, and I’m finding I really enjoy it. This is a big shift for me, because for most of my life I’ve either been taking a medication that taxed my liver, or felt like alcohol was off limits because I wanted to be as healthy as possible. I was sure I was doing the right thing until one day my boyfriend at the time gleefully announced a new study he had read out of the UK that found an inverse correlation with drinking alcohol and disease severity.1 Specifically, it concluded that drinking alcohol reduced the risk of RA, and also reduced the severity of people who live with it. That was a far cry from the messages I was hearing for all of my life, and since my boyfriend had a few glasses of wine every night, he was hoping he’d finally have some company. After that, I loosened up my self-imposed rules and began to experiment with different kinds of alcohol to see what I liked. To my surprise and the surprise of my family and friends, whiskey ended up being the winner. So, I went from being a goody two shoes who politely declines to a hard drinker!

What is the relationship between alcohol and RA

I just read another study that eases up recommendations for drinking even more. Again, from the UK, a country that loves to partake apparently, a new comprehensive study examined methotrexate and alcohol consumption. Apparently, moderate drinking does not affect the liver, you can drink up to six glasses of wine or beer a week and still be okay.2 So, are we free to join a beer of the month club? Apparently so, although I’d still talk to my doctor to discuss other possible interactions and safety considerations. I’m sure if I’d been drinking when I heard my liver enzymes were high while on another drug cocktail years ago, I would have been told to stop.

Living with RA is confusing enough, and all the expert advice we read or hear about can sometimes muddy the waters. As science learns more about how our bodies function, advice will shift, and we have to shift with it. But often, especially when it comes to dietary recommendations, I’ve found that the old adage about the weather in Colorado, “if you don’t like it, wait five minutes and it will change,” works. Five minutes maybe five years, but over the forty-seven years I’ve lived with JRA, I’ve lived through so many changes in medicine that doctors could almost be treating a different disease. Sixteen aspirin a day has been replaced by one infusion a month, and instead of being laughed out of the room if I bring up turmeric and ginger, I have a real conversation about the possible benefits.

My approach to being healthy

What this means for me and my approach to being healthy with JRA is that I’ve learned to be less rigid about how I approach some of the recommendations I read or hear about unless they come directly from my rheumatologist. I pay more attention to how my body responds to something rather than what I read about on WebMD or hear from my local massage therapist. Although I’ve read many studies that talk about the benefits of a vegetarian diet and I was a vegetarian for many years as a result,  I now eat some animal protein because I’ve found that my body feels much stronger when I do. I don’t eat GMO foods because there is too much negative information out there about them and I don’t want to risk my health for a large government experiment, and I drink alcohol a few times a week. I feel really good about these choices even though I know I may read about something in five years or five minutes that shifts my habits once again. After all, what is a healthy life with RA if not a best guess. And until we come up with some real answers, that’s what it will continue to be.

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