If you suffer from sore, inflamed, arthritic joints (knees, hips, hands, you name it), you probably have read that a glass of wine or a margarita might be just what the doctor ordered to ease your pain. Or you might have heard that stopping your drinking habit is the key to making joint aches go away. Or you might have heard both arguments and wondered which is true. After all, there are various studies that have suggested each be the case.
That means you might have to conduct a little experiment on yourself. If you don't drink alcohol, don't start now. But if you do drink, consider eliminating drinking alcohol to see if that behavior helps to remedy your pain. And remember, "arthritis," which means joint inflammation, comes in many forms. Common ones include osteoarthritis, a wearing down of cartilage due to aging or injury, gout, caused by the build-up of crystals in the joints, psoriatic arthritis, which affects the skin and joints, and rheumatoid arthritis, where the body's immune system attacks the joints and bones typically of the hands and feet.
Here's what science and a few registered dietitians have to say about beverage consumption and arthritis, and for more helpful tips, here are the Telltale Signs You Have Arthritis.
Drinking alcohol may exacerbate arthritis symptoms.
While a shot of Jack may take your mind off your knee pain for a moment, making a habit of drinking is likely to worsen arthritis symptoms. Why?
"Alcohol is a toxin in the body and can cause inflammation, which will have negative effects on arthritis," says medical expert board member and registered dietitian nutritionist Sydney Greene, MS, RDN, owner of Greene Health. Alcohol's inflammatory effects can aggravate joint pain from auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis as well as osteoarthritis."
"In addition, because alcohol can weaken the immune system, it can disrupt any healing protocols you might be on, and alcohol can interfere with many medications prescribed for arthritis pain," Greene says.
For example, alcohol should be avoided when taking the RA drug methotrexate because both significantly increase the risk for liver damage, according to the American College of Rheumatology. Check with your doctor for remedies for arthritis symptoms and advice about alcohol consumption and potential interactions with medications.
Drinking beer can trigger gout attacks.
Gout is one of the most common forms of inflammatory arthritis. It occurs when needle-sharp uric acid crystals form in a joint, often a big toe, causing intense pain. The crystals develop when your body breaks down purines, chemical compounds from purine-rich foods and drinks, especially beer and beverages sweetened with fructose, like soda and cocktail mixers. Many studies, including one in the American Journal of Medicine, found that the risk of recurrent gout attacks significantly increases in relation to the amount of alcohol in drinks.
Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages can cause symptoms, too.
Even if you don't drink alcohol, other beverages may spell trouble for your joints.
"Drinking beverages with excess added sugars can potentially increase inflammation and trigger arthritic symptoms," says medical board member and registered dietitian Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CEO of NY Nutrition Group and author of The Core 3 Healthy Eating Plan. "Further, if you often opt for a soda, sweetened coffee, juice, or a sports drink, over a nutritious snack with anti-inflammatory fats and antioxidants, this habit can possibly activate more flare-ups."
For details on what sugar sweetened beverages can do, read 5 Drinks Secretly Increasing Inflammation in Your Body.