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That doesn't mean humans should turn to the bottle to stave off the painful joint disease, however.
Asked if he would attempt a similar experiment in humans, lead researcher Dr. Andrzej Tarkowski, professor of rheumatology at Goteborg University said, "I wouldn't dare to do it."
The mice were given a daily regimen of tap water supplemented with 10 percent alcohol. "That would do liver damage in humans," Tarkowski noted.
"There may be some kind of human correlate, but that's not what I'm studying," added Tarkowski, who published the findings in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Instead, Tarkowski is interested in the mechanism by which alcohol might help prevent rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks its own joint tissue.
"We have shown that it goes through the up-regulation [increase] of testosterone," he said. "That down-regulates inflammation, which is part of the arthritic process."
Test tube studies also show that alcohol increases the migration of white blood cells, which take part in the inflammatory process, Tarkowski.
In the experiment, male mice were given injections of collagen to induce rheumatoid arthritis. The researchers noted a significantly lower onset of disease and fewer destructive symptoms in mice who drank water with 10 percent alcohol added in, than in those who drank plain tap water.
Dr Stephen Lindsey, head of rheumatology at the Ochsner Clinic Foundation Hospital in Baton Rouge, La., agreed that the study findings aren't a license to start drinking.
"This paper is germane to male mice," Lindsey said. "That's all we can say at this time." Another reason for caution is that many of the medications used to treat rheumatoid arthritis are also toxic to the liver, as is alcohol, he said. This study also focused on male mice and testosterone, when most rheumatoid arthritis sufferers are female.
The findings do suggest directions for possible trials, he said, perhaps among men with rheumatoid arthritis to see if their condition is affected by alcohol consumption.
However, there is no reason to change the standing recommendations for people with arthritis, he noted.
Tarkowski saw some possibility in using acetaldehyde, a breakdown product of alcohol, in prevention of rheumatoid arthritis. However, Lindsey again cautioned that acetaldehyde "would have to be used in relatively small amounts because, in large amounts, it is toxic."
SOURCES: Andrzej Tarkowski, M.D., professor, rheumatology, Goteborg University, Sweden; Stephen Lindsey, M.D., head of rheumatology, Ochsner Clinic Foundation Hospital, Baton Rouge, La; Dec. 18-22, 2006, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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