How Does Alcohol Affect Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Medically Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on May 16, 2022
3 min read

If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you might wonder whether it’s OK to have a glass of wine, beer, or a cocktail. The short answer is most likely yes.

Research shows that moderate drinking might have some benefits for people with RA. But scientists aren’t sure why.

RA is an autoimmune condition. Your immune system overreacts and targets your joints. That causes inflammation and swelling, most often in your hands, feet, and knees. Most scientists think the reason some alcohol may help with RA is that it lowers inflammation.

One study looked at nurses with RA. It showed that there was a link between alcohol and some signs of inflammation. In one case, they found that the relationship looked like a letter “U.” Inflammation was lowest in people who drank a moderate amount of alcohol compared to those who drank either more or less.

A more recent study showed that alcohol might help with RA through its effect on certain immune cells. The thinking is moderate amounts of alcohol might help to keep those cells from overreacting and causing inflammation in people with RA.

There is some evidence that moderate drinking may help you from getting RA.

A Swedish study that included more than 34,000 women showed that the ones who drank more than four glasses of alcohol per week were less likely to get RA. That’s compared to women who drank less than one glass of alcohol per week or who never drank. When the researchers looked at what happened over 10 years, the effect was even bigger. Women who said they usually had more than three glasses of alcohol per week were about half as likely to get RA as those who never drank.

A U.S. study of more than 120,000 female registered nurses showed that women who drank a beer two to four times a week were about a third as likely to get RA as women who never drank beer.

Before you make having a drink part of your daily routine, think about the medications you take. Alcohol doesn’t mix well with many drugs.

If you regularly take pain relievers such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or naproxen, drinking alcohol while those medicines are in your system is not a good idea. If you take methotrexate for your RA, make sure to ask your doctor if it’s OK for you to drink. You should talk to your doctor about the risks of mixing alcohol with any drugs you take.

The benefits in these studies were only seen with moderate drinking. It’s never a good idea to drink too much. For women, experts say that one drink a day is usually safe. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. For men, it’s usually safe to have two drinks a day.

If you don’t drink or drink very little, experts say you shouldn’t start or drink more because you think it may be good for you. But if you have RA and you like to relax with an alcoholic drink, you probably don’t need to stop.