Having a couple of beers a week may reduce a woman's risk of getting painful rheumatoid arthritis (RA) by nearly a third, a new study finds.
Researchers with Harvard Medical School wanted to see if moderate alcohol consumption might be associated with a lower risk of this particular form of arthritis, which affects more than 1.5 million Americans, primarily women. The disease typically strikes women between ages 30 and 60.
In the study, having a few alcoholic drinks during the week seemed to reduce the risk by a modest 21 percent, but having two to four beers per week had the best effect - cutting women's odds for getting the disease by 31 percent, said lead researcher Bing Lu, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital.
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Lu and his colleagues looked at the drinking habits of nearly 240,000 nurses enrolled in two large federal studies. Women filled out questionnaires about their health every two years and about their food and alcohol consumption every four years.
The research was published in the spring 2014 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism.
The findings point up only a relationship and not a cause, the researchers noted. They can't yet explain how beer and other alcohol works to reduce a woman's risk for rheumatoid arthritis. They also don't know if the findings would apply to men, although "rheumatoid arthritis is primarily a woman's disease," Lu told HealthDay.
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In addition, several experts issued some caveats:
- For those who already have rheumatoid arthritis, mixing alcohol with some RA drugs can be risky, due to possible liver damage. Check with your doctor before increasing your alcohol consumption.
- The research should not be seen as a reason to start drinking beer if you don't do so now.
- While an occasional drink might have some health benefits, excessive drinking is harmful.
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