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Impact of Alcohol Use on Multiple Sclerosis

MS and alcohol use

Here is some good news about alcohol use and multiple sclerosis: adults who consume high amounts of these beverages have a lower risk of developing the neurodegenerative disease than teetotalers. The second bit of good tidings is that it also could be true that people with MS do not need to avoid alcohol.

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These two announcements are part of a study conducted by researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and that appear in the new issue of JAMA Neurology. A brief summary of the findings are presented here, followed by the results of another study of MS and alcohol use.

New MS and alcohol study
The study results were based on data gathered from two large studies (Epidemiological Investigation of Multiple Sclerosis [EIMS] and Genes and Environment in Multiple Sclerosis [GEMS]) for a total of 6,619 individuals with MS and 7,007 controls. A review of the data showed the following:

  • Women in the EIMS study who said they consumed a high amount of alcohol (defined as more than 11 standard drinks per week) had a 40 percent lower risk of developing MS than women who did not drink
  • Men in the EIMS study who were defined as high alcohol drinkers (more than 17 drinks per week) had a 50 percent lower risk of developing the disease than their nondrinking peers
  • Both men and women in the GEMS study who were high alcohol consumers had a 30 percent lower risk of MS than nondrinkers
  • Another finding was that among smokers, those who drank alcohol experienced less harmful effects of smoking than did teetotalers

The researchers did not explore the impact of alcohol use among people who already have MS, but they suggested their findings may indicate that doctors may not need to tell MSers to avoid alcohol. However, another recent study did look at this relationship.

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MS and alcohol use
Prior to the new study, a group in Brussels had evaluated the impact of alcoholic beverages on disability progression in relapsing onset MS and progressive onset MS. The team analyzed data from 1,372 individuals with MS and the outcome factor was the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) 6, which is defined as requiring some means of support to walk 100 meters.

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The authors found that among the relapsing onset group, regular use of alcohol and wine were associated with a decreased risk for reaching EDSS 6 when compared with patients who had never used these beverages. Among those with progressive onset, however, no such benefit was seen.

The authors concluded that drinking alcohol was associated with a reduced chance of disease progression among those with relapsing onset MS but not progressive onset MS. These findings support the idea that there are different factors or mechanisms involved in these two types of MS, and hopefully this information will help investigators uncover them.

The bottom line
As always, moderation should be a key consideration in alcohol consumption. While the results of these two studies should not send MSers running for the liquor store, especially those who do not already drink, they do suggest use of alcohol may not be a bad thing for people who have multiple sclerosis.

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D’hooghe MB et al. Alcohol, coffee, fish, smoking and disease progression in multiple sclerosis. European Journal of Neurology 2012 Apr; 19(4): 616-24
Hedstrom AK et al. Inverse association between alcohol consumption, multiple sclerosis. JAMA Neurology 2014 Jan 6. Online. DOI:10.1001/.jamaneurol.2013.5858

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