You’ve probably heard that moderate drinkers have a lower risk of certain health problems, including heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Studies have similarly suggested that a few drinks a week might cut your chances of developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and that RA patients who drink moderately are less likely to have severe symptoms. But is the alcohol actually causing these health benefits? 

At least when it comes to RA, the answer seems to be no. 

In a new study, published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research, researchers tried to tease out whether there was a true cause-and-effect relationship between alcohol and RA symptoms by tracking when patients shifted their habits to drink more or less and matching those changes up with measures of disease activity. The researchers relied primarily on semi-annual surveys of nearly 17,000 participants. 

After analyzing the data, the researchers concluded that patients who were currently dealing with more severe disease were more likely to stop drinking and less likely to start if they weren’t already drinking. They also determined that current drinkers with greater RA-related disability and a poorer quality of life were less likely to continue using alcohol. The flip side: Healthier RA patients were the ones more likely to be regularly consuming some beer, wine, or liquor.

“Our data shows that when people aren’t feeling well, they tend not to drink alcohol. While this makes it appear that people who drink are better off, it’s probably not because the alcohol itself is helping,” lead author Joshua Baker, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania, told ScienceDaily

His group’s official conclusion is that alcohol doesn’t make RA better. “Active [alcohol] use and changes in use were not associated with disease activity or mortality… suggesting no clear benefit of alcohol consumption in RA,” they wrote. 

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