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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
View References
  1. https://academic.oup.com/rheumatology/article/49/11/2140/1785602
  2. http://www.the-rheumatologist.org/article/moderate-alcohol-use-safe-methotrexate-ra/

Comments

View Comments (7)
  • Nell
    7 months ago

    I just searched for the word “drinking” here and found this article. And the reason I was searching was to see if others have the same reaction to alcohol as I do.

    I have noticed that the nights that I go out and drink a lot, my symptoms are a lot less or completely gone for a few days. And if I stay home and make the healthiest food and don’t drink, my symptoms get worse. I started my medication two months ago and I am not supposed to drink. But I won’t be able to do that since it is part of my social life. I have reduced my drinking a lot and most days I don’t drink but when I do, I feel a lot better for a few days. I am glad to find this article.

  • suann
    9 months ago

    I drink a juicer a night to flush my kidneys so that is what the doctor calls it. I do take meds but one drink/bottle/glass isn’t going to hurt..I have never liked beer but adding salt and tomato juice isnt so bad…. I always tried to live a healthy life because of some of the bio meds I once was on. I’ve never felt healthy no matter what I do, You ?

  • sarab92
    9 months ago

    I’ve found that having some alcohol throughout the week or weekend has a positive effect on my symptoms. I’m currently on hydroxychloroquine and I’ll add some Advil if I have any sort of flare or swelling. But when I drink alcohol (maybe a margarita, or a shot of tequila, or one beer) I find that I don’t need to take Advil as often or at all for a few days. It has been a very curious development in my whole RA journey and quite honestly something I’m relieved and happy about. I’m only in my mid-twenties so its nice to still be able to have a drink at dinner with my friends. Also, I find animal protein to be SO helpful as well.

  • Jo J
    9 months ago

    It’s tough to find the information to make an educated decision. I struggled with the decision to drink or not drink on MTX. I saw the same info from the UK. It appears, in the US, it may not have been actually studied. The assumption is that both alcohol and MTX can damage the liver, so that together, they could cause more liver damage. But, I can’t find a study that upholds that conclusion.

    In the end, I limited my alcohol to 1-2 drinks per week, and never on the same or next day I took MTX. I did feel like the fatigue and brain fog of MTX felt worse with alcohol.

    A month ago I stopped the MTX d/t toxic side effects. I just had a lovely out of town weekend and freed myself from alcohol restrictions – and it was lovely! (I do match 1:1 alcohol drink to water)

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    9 months ago

    I gave up alcohol (I still have a light beer about 2x per year) but for the most part anyway I alcohol free. On the other hand, I am not vegan, turn down gluten or abstain from GMO’s.

    So am I better or worse than if I drank? Who knows, it just works, most of the time anyway.

  • Carla Kienast
    10 months ago

    Hi Kat: Love your post because it truly points out making informed (and reasonable) lifestyle choices. RA meds certainly complicate those decisions. I’ve seen these studies and posted an article about a study (also from the UK) about alcohol consumption and methotrexate. I was told NOT to drink once I started MTX (which was, for me, yet another reason to refuse to take it). My article which supports your advice is here: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/mtx-and-booze-back-together-again/ I’m delighted that this kind of research, along with diet/food issues, is being done. These types of things help improve quality of life for so many of us that are deprived of things we enjoy due to disease.

  • kat-elton author
    10 months ago

    I agree entirely Carla! Any time I see a study that helps us to understand more about this disease I perk up and read it. If the study addresses things like diet/food/drink, it is so important to look at, because we all eat and drink daily, and these things bring joy to a life filled with a lot of pain. The fact that more of them are happening, is good news for all of us. And thanks for your article- it explains the study really well. 🙂

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