Beer Reduces RA Risk for Women?
Last updated: June 2014
A new study published in Arthritis & Rheumatology has recently come out claiming that beer can help reduce the risk of women getting rheumatoid arthritis. Really? Beer? This sounds a bit contradictory and suspicious to me, but give the following article a read and see what you think:
Coincidentally, I'm drinking a beer right now as I write this. I'm also still in the midst of a bad flare-up and I'm pretty sure that I should not be drinking beer, or any alcohol. Whoops. But I am interested to learn how beer, of all things, could prevent women from getting RA.
Bing Lu, Dr.PH, an assistant professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, looked at the drinking habits of women in the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHSII). The first study began in 1976, and includes more than 121,000 registered nurses. The second includes more than 116,00 nurses, and started in 1989. Women answered questions about their health and lifestyle every two years , including alcohol consumption, every four years.
Speaking of health and lifestyle, during all of the 16 years I've had RA I've never been good at identifying flare-up triggers like some people are. Dairy? Gluten? The weather? Whenever people ask me about these things, I usually answer, "Well...I don't know..."
This article and theory are interesting because one of the rare few things I have been able to identify that worsen my RA is alcohol. These days, I don't drink that often, but I admit that I went a little crazy during my 20s. And I clearly remember the miserable day after a night out with friends involving not only a headache and crushing hangover but painful and bloated joints that seemed to magically inflame overnight. This wasn't a fluke occurrence either; a pattern of alcohol-induced inflammation was quite obvious. To me, this flare-up reaction seems to make sense. Alcohol is hard on your body anyway, but when your immune system is already compromised by the disease and medications, I can't imagine that alcohol would help matters. However, the study points out that the benefit from drinking beer and alcohol is before getting RA. Not afterwards.
So what's the connection? How can alcohol, and especially beer, prevent women from getting an inflammatory auto-immune disease?
A lot of questions come to mind after reading this article. Why does beer "work better" at preventing RA than alcohol in general? How much beer? Does it matter what kind of beer? How does alcohol stop or inhibit a woman's immune system from going haywire with inflammation? Were there other environmental factors involved in the study that could affect these findings? Why wasn't I drinking beer when I was 12?
The article and study states that, "moderate use of any form of alcohol reduced the risk by about 21 percent, but moderate beer drinking—two to four beers per week—cut women's odds for the disease by nearly a third."
Here's a link to the actual study abstract if you're interested:
Alcohol consumption and risk of incident rheumatoid arthritis in women: a prospective study2
According to a similar Healthline3 article, Lu cannot explain the mechanism that causes beer (and other alcohols) to lower a woman’s risk for developing the disease. Alcohol is thought to affect the hormonal and immunologic systems, but some theories about these processes are contradictory, the study states. It has been shown that alcohol suppresses the synthesis of pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines.
Instead of causing women to run out to the bar or liquor store to throw back beers on a regular basis in the name of disease prevention, I hope this study will help lead scientists to new and more discoveries regarding arthritis research and medication development.
Well, I've reached the end of this post and the bottom of my beer glass. Staying as healthy as possible and keeping my RA under control are good reasons to not become a regular beer drinker. However I can't and won't cut beer completely out of my life. A little "treat" here and there is OK, right? And I look forward to seeing where this study goes and how it might influence developments in RA treatment.
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