If you like to end the day with a cocktail or enjoy a glass of wine or a beer with your evening meal, you probably don’t think about what that libation is doing to your joints. But your choice of drink can be a factor in whether osteoarthritis comes to plague you or not. Could the contents of your cocktail glass really be setting you up for bad hips or knees? According to a team of investigators from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, wine might be a hero and beer a villain.
PUTTING YOUR FAVORITE DRINKS TO THE TEST
The research team used a large database called the Genetics of OA and Lifestyle (GOAL), which contains information about the eating and drinking habits of people with severe hip or knee osteoarthritis as well as X-ray films of the study participants’ hands, knees and hips. They looked at 993 people with severely osteoarthritic hips, 1,001 with osteoarthritic knees and 933 controls who showed no evidence on X-rays or medical exams of having osteoarthritis.
Each person in the study also completed three separate questionnaires. One questionnaire gathered information about drinking patterns, including frequency, duration and type of alcohol consumed (beer, wine, spirits). From this, the team calculated the average total alcohol intake of each person. The second questionnaire was about intake of 126 foods and nonalcoholic beverages. And the third questionnaire contained questions that helped confirm the information collected in the other questionnaires to help ensure the reliability of that information. The researchers also collected lifestyle information, including employment history, physical activity level, weight, height, smoking status and medical conditions, including old joint injuries.
The results: Choice of beverage appeared to be associated with osteoarthritis risk—with drinkers of two all-time favorite American alcoholic beverages having completely opposite experiences. Whereas no association was seen between alcohol-free drinks and incidence of osteoarthritis, wine was associated with a lower incidence of knee osteoarthritis. And the more wine a person drank (up to seven glasses per week), the lower the risk of knee osteoarthritis. In fact, those who drank four to seven glasses of wine per week had about half the risk of those who did not drink wine. No association was seen between wine and higher or lower risk of hip osteoarthritis, though.
Beer drinking, on the other hand, was strongly associated with osteoarthritis…the more beer a person drank, the higher the risk of knee osteoarthritis. Knee osteoarthritis was nearly twice as likely to develop in people who drank eight or more pints of beer per week compared with people who did not drink beer—and the more beer consumed per week, the higher the risk. Beer drinking was also associated with a significantly increased risk of hip osteoarthritis but only in men.
THE EFFECT IS IN THE MIX
The study didn’t look into why the results turned out as they did, but the researchers proposed a few factors. For one, as we all know, beer drinking can lead to a “beer belly”—weight around the middle that puts stress on the knees. But the study authors did not make correlations between weight and alcohol consumption. Beer also increases blood levels of uric acid, which can worsen osteoarthritis by crystalizing and settling in joints.
Regarding wine…its antioxidant content may be cartilage-protective. Wine also contains substances that increase favorable bacteria in the gut, which support the immune system and reduce overall inflammation, according to the researchers.
Additional research is needed to confirm the study findings and really pinpoint why wine and beer drinkers have drastically different risk potentials for osteoarthritis. But the results also lend more weight to wine’s many health benefits.