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Does Alcohol Cause Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a serious systemic autoimmune illness affecting about two million Americans according to latest estimates. This is a disease that can strike at any age but is most common in the prime of life between 30 and 50. However, the elderly and children can also have RA. Once it was uniformly debilitating but now has many successful treatments.      

The cause of RA is still mysterious with science having only a few clues about why it occurs. We know how RA does its damage because the autoimmune reaction causes immune system cells and chemicals to invade the joints and to cause injury to those tissues. It is believed that there is a genetic link in many if not all cases that responds to some trigger in the environment, a substance or a disease-causing organism. It is known of course that RA itself is not contagious.  

One possible culprit that has been looked at as a cause of RA is the food we eat and drink. No clear evidence has been found that any one food or group of foods is a cause, but some believe this and limit their diets. Some have questioned whether consuming alcohol could be a cause of RA as well.  

While excessive alcohol intake can make the symptoms of RA worse just as it can damage the body in other ways, the answer to the question “Does alcohol cause rheumatoid arthritis?” is a bit surprising. Not only is alcohol pretty much ruled out as an underlying cause, it may actually be helpful!  

Some alcoholic drinks such as wines contain antioxidants known to be helpful against tissue damage, but any moderate alcohol intake has been shown in studies to seem to decrease the incidence of RA. A small amount of alcohol may actually be a way to avoid developing RA.  

Not all researchers and arthritis experts agree with these studies and some recommend avoiding foods like alcohol and red meat just as they do in gout, an arthritic disease made worse by purines in foods and beverages. It also should be noted that alcohol can cause intoxication which could increase the risk of falls and injuries. Alcohol is also a stomach irritant and many people with RA have stomach problems. In addition, alcohol can interact with some medications and should be avoided for that reason alone.  

The preponderance of evidence suggests that alcohol does not cause RA and may in fact even help to stop it from developing. However, the use of alcohol by those who already have a diagnosis of RA is more problematic and the advice of the patient’s physician on its use should be followed.

Resources  

About.com article about possible protective effect of alcohol on RA: arthritis.about.com/  

Dangers from alcohol intake in RA: arthritis.about.com/

Moderate alcohol intake and Vitamin C as protective against RA: www.arc.org.uk/  

Study on alcohol and its effect on prevention of RA: www2.potsdam.edu/   

Article advising against alcohol in other related conditions www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/


RESOURCES:

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