A recent study on the relationship between MS and alcohol consumption is shedding new light on whether or not alcohol truly exacerbates serious emotional and psychological conditions in MS patients, as previous research suggested.
Past research on multiple sclerosis that studied the causes of an increased risk for mood disorders and suicidal thoughts in MS patients concluded that these behaviors were linked with alcohol consumption. However, the correlation between MS and alcohol consumption had not been directly studied, nor had empirical evidence to prove this assumption ever been produced. For example, a previous study from 2004 assessed the drinking patterns in 140 MS patients, focusing on an association with drinking and mood and anxiety disorders. Lifetime psychiatric diagnoses were ascertained using the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV disorders (SCID-IV). The DSM-IV refers to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by clinicians and psychiatrists to diagnose psychiatric illness.
The results of this study demonstrated that one in six MS patients drink to excess over the course of their lifetime. Patients with a history of problem drinking displayed a higher lifetime prevalence of anxiety but not mood disorders. The study also found associations between problem drinking and a lifetime prevalence of suicidal thoughts. At that time, clinicians were warned about the possibility of problem drinking in MS patients and how this may complicate the course of their disease. Clues to problem drinking in MS patients include the presence of a positive family history of mental illness and prominent anxiety.
However, new research suggests that development of MS and alcohol consumption seems to have a dose-dependent inverse association. According to Anna Karin Hedstrom, M.D., of the Karolinski Institute, Sweden, and colleagues, based on this research there is no reason to support advising MS patients to completely refrain from alcohol. Earlier studies were inconsistent about the impact of alcohol and the risk of developing MS.
Hedstrom and colleagues investigated the possible association of developing MS and alcohol consumption using two population studies in Sweden. They had 745 cases of MS and over 1,700 controls in the Epidemiological Investigation of Multiple Sclerosis (EIMS) study. The Genes and Environment in Multiple Sclerosis (GEMS) study had 5,874 MS cases along with over 5,000 controls. Participants ranged in ages from 16 and 70 years of age.
Women who reported high alcohol consumption in the EIMS study had an odds ratio (OR) of 0.6 of developing MS as compared with non-drinking women. The men with high alcohol consumption had an OR of 0.5 as compared to non-drinking men. The corresponding OR comparison in GEMS was 0.7 for both men and women. An odd ratio is a measure of the odds of a particular event occurring in one group compared to the odds of the same event happening in another group.
Additionally, alcohol consumption also seemed to be linked with the lessening of the effect of smoking.
The researchers note, “Although the effect of alcohol on already established MS has not been studied herein, the data may have relevance for clinical practice since they give no support for advising persons with MS to completely refrain from alcohol.”
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