When it comes to your multiple sclerosis (MS), you want to do what’s best for your body. But you wonder about alcohol. Is it OK to enjoy a drink from time to time? Or is alcohol completely off the table? The answer is a little more complicated than a simple yes or no.
Don’t Overdo It
“For most people with MS, the answer is to use alcohol in moderation,” says Jennifer Graves, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurosciences and director of the Neuroimmunology Research Program at the University of California, San Diego.
According to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, that means no more than one drink a day if you’re a woman or two if you’re a man.
“Regularly having several drinks could worsen neurological damage and function for patients living with MS, but a glass of wine or single beer at dinner is unlikely to cause significant issues,” says Graves.
Alcohol is neither all good nor all bad. For example, the antioxidants and flavonoids in red wine may actually lower your risk of heart disease, which is a concern when you have MS. But this isn’t a reason to start drinking if you don’t already. These compounds are in other food and drink, says Graves.
And in case you’re wondering if past alcohol use may have caused your MS, set your worries aside.
“Based on data available, that’s unlikely,” says Graves.
Alcohol’s Effect on MS Symptoms
If you do decide to enjoy an occasional glass of wine or beer, know that it could ramp up certain symptoms of MS. Even one drink can make issues like unsteadiness worse.
“If you have a lot of trouble with balance, thinking, or memory symptoms from MS, it may be better to avoid alcohol altogether,” says Graves.
Alcohol can also lead to sleep problems and worsen bladder symptoms. You also raise your risk of other conditions when you drink alcohol, especially if you drink too much. Your chances of certain cancers, high cholesterol, and stroke go up. Some of these conditions can make your MS worse overall, says Graves, so doing what you can to keep them from happening is important.
Several medications used to treat MS symptoms like pain, headache, insomnia, and depression don’t mix well with alcohol. “Combining these medications with drinks could lead to excessive sedation and health risks,” says Graves.
Be sure to ask your doctor how your specific treatments might act with alcohol so you know what to look for.
Short and Sweet
Remember that everyone with MS is different. Have an honest conversation with your doctor about your habits so you can make smart decisions for yourself.
It’s likely fine for you to celebrate with a glass of bubbly, add a nice red to your meal, or enjoy a beer while you watch the game. Just know your limits and try your best to stay within them.
Jennifer Graves, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurosciences and director, Neuroimmunology Research Program, University of California, San Diego; director, Rady Children's Pediatric MS Center, Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego.
Health.gov: “Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020.”
American Heart Association: “Is drinking alcohol part of a healthy lifestyle?"
National Multiple Sclerosis Society: “Unhealthy Habits.