Is Drinking Beer Trashing Your Joints? Is Wine Better?

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People tend to be in one of two big camps on the topic of alcoholic beverages – beer or wine. Beer drinkers tend to be hearty and fun loving souls focused on the moment, where as we wine drinkers love our pretty labels and snob appeal. Now a new study shows that these two drink choices may have a very different impact on knee and hip arthritis and the news is not good for beer drinkers.

Beer is basically alcoholic liquid bread or carbs. As I’ve blogged before, the average American sugar based diet wrecks havoc on joints. This is not only because the extra weight that carbs add places more pressure on joints, but because the loss of blood sugar control causes metabolic changes that chew up cartilage. This “metabolic syndrome” (weight gain, high blood pressure, poor blood sugar control) is a huge cause of premature death and disability in all industrialized nations.

The new research looked at about two thousand U.K. patients with knee and hip arthritis and then another thousand control patients. They found that increasing beer consumption was tied to a corresponding increase in knee and hip arthritis. Patients who had 5 or more beers a week were about twice as likely to end up with arthritis in these joints.  On the other side of that coin, increasing wine consumption was associated with less arthritis (a protective effect). For example, in patients who had 4-6 glasses of wine a week versus 7+ there was a 45% and 52% reduced risk of knee or hip osteoarthritis. Why is this happening? Since the level of alcohol consumed is associated with disparate outcomes (i.e. more beer equals more arthritis and more wine less arthritis), this doesn’t seem to be an alcohol effect.  I would venture a guess that it is related to sugar metabolism. First, beer drinkers likely have more metabolic syndrome as the unstable blood sugar that goes with that issue leads patients to crave carbs like beer, so the study is likely selecting out patients who have that issue. If you’re naturally drawn to wine, which has far fewer carbs, you likely don’t have metabolic syndrome. On the other hand, the extra blood sugar spikes that “liquid bread” can cause may also be directly responsible for the effect.

The upshot? If you have knee or hip arthritis or are worried about it, ditch the alcoholic bread for an effete glass of wine. I know that you’ll look a bit silly partying with the boys (or girls) with that pinky finger splayed while contrasting that glass of Bordeaux to their Bud Light, but that choice just may save your joints! They’ll look far sillier a few years from now sporting a large knee replacement scar while you’re running circles around them!

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Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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