Understanding rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. If you have RA, your body’s immune system will mistakenly attack your joints.

This attack causes inflammation of the lining around the joints. It can cause pain and even lead to a loss of joint mobility. In severe cases, irreversible joint damage can occur.

About 1.5 million people in the United States have RA. Nearly three times as many women have the disease as men.

Countless hours of research have been conducted to understand exactly what causes RA and the best way to treat it. There have even been studies that show drinking alcohol may actually help reduce RA symptoms.

Some research suggests that alcohol might not be as harmful as first thought for people with RA. Results have been somewhat positive, but studies are limited and some results have been conflicting. A lot more research is needed.

2010 Rheumatology study

One 2010 study in the journal Rheumatology has shown that alcohol might help with RA symptoms in some people. The study investigated the association between the frequency of alcohol consumption and the risk and severity of RA.

It was a small study, and there were some limitations. However, the results seemed to support that alcohol consumption did decrease the risk and severity of RA in this small cohort. Compared to people who have RA and drank little to no alcohol, there was a noticeable difference in severity.

2014 Brigham and Women’s Hospital study

A 2014 study conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital focused on alcohol consumption in women and its relationship to RA. The study found that drinking a moderate amount of beer might positively affect the impact of RA development.

It’s important to note that only women who were moderate drinkers saw benefits and that excessive drinking is considered unhealthy.

Since women were the only test subjects, the results from this particular study don’t apply to men.

2018 Scandinavian Journal of Rheumatology study

This study looked at the effect of alcohol on radiological progression in the hands, wrists, and feet.

In radiological progression, periodic X-rays are used to determine how much joint erosion or joint space narrowing has occurred over time. It helps doctors to monitor the condition of people with RA.

The study found that moderate alcohol consumption led to an increase in radiological progression in women and a decrease in radiological progression in men.

If you do decide to drink alcohol, moderation is key. Moderate drinking is defined as one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.

The amount of alcohol that counts as one drink, or a serving, differs depending on the type of alcohol. One serving is equal to:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1 1/2 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits

Drinking too much alcohol may lead to alcohol misuse or dependency. Drinking more than two glasses of alcohol a day may also increase your chance of health risks, including cancer.

If you have RA or experience any of the symptoms, you should see your doctor for treatment. Your doctor will most likely instruct you not to mix alcohol with your RA medications.

Alcohol doesn’t react well with many commonly prescribed RA medications.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly prescribed to treat RA. They can be over-the-counter (OTC) drugs such as naproxen (Aleve), or they can be prescription drugs. Drinking alcohol with these types of drugs increases your risk of stomach bleeding.

If you’re taking methotrexate (Trexall), rheumatologists recommend that you don’t drink any alcohol or limit your consumption of alcohol to no more than two glasses per month.

If you take acetaminophen (Tylenol) to help with pain and inflammation, drinking alcohol can lead to liver damage.

If you’re taking any of the previously mentioned medications, you should abstain from alcohol or talk to your doctor about the potential dangers.

The studies on alcohol consumption and RA are interesting, but a lot is still unknown.

You should always seek professional medical treatment so that your doctor can treat your individual case. Each case of RA is different, and what works for another person may not work for you.

Alcohol can react negatively with certain RA medications, so it’s important to understand the risk factors. A good rule of thumb to ensure your health and safety is to always talk to your doctor before trying any new treatments for RA.