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Alcohol and Arthritis

Drink only in moderation, if at all.

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If you enjoy a glass of wine or pint of beer with dinner, you might wonder whether alcohol is a friend or foe to arthritis. The answer is, it’s a bit of both.

Enjoying that glass or pint with some regularity might reduce your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA), according to a few studies. “Moderate alcohol consumption…reduces biomarkers of inflammation, including c-reactive protein, interleukin-6, and TNF-alpha receptor 2,” says Karen Costenbader, MD, MPH, a rheumatologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Inflammation is what makes your joints swell and ache when you have RA. Alcohol’s anti-inflammatory effects are also thought to be one of the reasons it appears to lower cardiovascular disease risk in moderate drinkers.

Yet the key word is moderate. “We saw that for women who drank between 5 and 10 grams of alcohol a day, there was a reduced risk of RA,” says Dr. Costenbader. That works out to less than a glass of wine or beer daily.

Once you already have arthritis, drinking may have more downsides than pluses. Many of the medicines your doctor prescribes to relieve sore joints don’t mix well with alcohol – including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve), which carry a greater risk for stomach bleeding and ulcers when you drink. Taken with acetaminophen, methotrexate or leflunomide (Arava), alcohol can make you more susceptible to liver damage.

Alcohol is particularly problematic if you have gout. “Gout attacks can be brought on by purine-rich foods or drinks, and beer is high in purines,” Dr. Costenbader says. Distilled liquor, and possibly wine, can also cause problems for those with gout.

If you have arthritis and want to drink, “Get your doctor’s advice first,” Costenbader recommends. Even with a doctor’s ok, limit yourself to one glass a day. Drinking in excess is damaging to your body in many other ways. “The risk of other kinds of diseases goes up with higher alcohol consumption.” Conditions linked to drinking more than moderate amounts of alcohol include cancers of the breast, colon, esophagus, mouth and throat, as well as diseases like diabetes and stroke.

Alcohol, if you choose to drink it, should be only one small part of an overall healthy lifestyle. Even better ways to protect your joints – and the rest of your body – are to eat a healthy diet, exercise, control your weight and not smoke, Dr. Costenbader says.

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