DRINKING at least three glasses of alcohol a week for ten years halves a woman’s risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, a controversial study claims.
Women who have at least three standard glasses of alcohol – defined as 500ml of beer, 150ml of wine or a 50ml measure of spirits – are 52 per cent less likely to develop the illness than non-drinkers.
Swedish doctors, who studied the drinking habits and health of more than 34,000 women, say “moderate drinking” was good for their health.
Last night women were warned against using the research to justify drinking more, as too much alcohol increases the chances of them developing other health issues.
Professor Alicja Wolk, of the Institute of Environmental Medicine in Stockholm, said: “These findings add to a growing body of evidence that long-term moderate alcohol consumption is not harmful and may protect against a chronic disease like rheumatoid arthritis.”
The expert said further research was needed to find out what effect higher levels of drinking had in relation to developing arthritis, which one in every 100 people in the western world suffers from.
It is a chronic inflammatory joint disorder which usually develops between the ages of 40 and 50. Women are three times more likely to suffer from the condition than men.
The Swedish experts looked at cases of the illness among women born between 1914 and 1947 and asked about each individual’s alcohol intake.
They also looked at their diet, smoking history, physical activity and educational achievements.
They began looking at the women’s health in 1987 and monitored developments until 2009. A total of 197 new cases of rheumatoid arthritis were found in the group of females.
Prof Wolk said: “The age-standardised rate of rheumatoid arthritis was smaller among women who drank more than four glasses of alcohol a week (7 per 10,000 person years) than among women who drank less than one glass a week (9.1 per 10,000 person years).
“After adjusting for factors such as age, smoking and dietary habits, women who reported drinking more than three glasses of alcohol per week in both 1987 and 1997 had a 52 per cent reduced risk of rheumatoid arthritis compared with never drinkers.”
“The reduced risk was similar for all three types of alcoholic drink, beer, wine and spirits.”
Barbara O’Donnell, deputy chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “The findings of this research should be treated with caution. This is not a green light for women to drink increasing amounts of alcohol.
“There is an abundance of other research that shows that alcohol can have a detrimental impact on health.”