People who drink alcohol are less prone to the sometimes crippling disease called rheumatoid arthritis compared with non-drinkers, according to a Scandinavian study published on Wednesday.
People who had a moderate alcohol consumption were 40 and 45 percent less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis compared with people who did not drink or drank only occasionally, it found.
Among those who had a high consumption, the risk was reduced by 50 and 55 percent respectively.
Most surprising was that the biggest benefits were seen among smokers with a genetic profile known to make them vulnerable to the disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects between 0.5 and one percent of people, according to figures for the industrialised world.
It happens when the immune system attacks the joints, causing inflammation and damage to the cartilage and bone.
A mixture of environmental factors, especially smoking, and genetic heritage are the deemed causes of the disease.
The authors, led by Henrik Kaellberg of the Institute of Environmental Medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, note previous research that suggests alcohol interferes with inflammatory processes that trigger heart disease.
Doctors advising patients about the disease say they should urge smokers to kick tobacco, but not necessarily to stop consumption of alcohol in moderate quantities.
High consumption of alcohol, while apparently protective for rheumatoid arthritis, is itself linked with many other health problems.
The paper appears in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, a specialist journal published by the British Medical Association (BMA).