Study Reveals Possible Reason Why Moderate Alcohol Consumption May Lower Lupus Risk
A newly published study finds moderate alcohol consumption may lower risk of developing lupus by lowering circulating stem cell factor (SFC) levels in the blood. SCF are substances created by immune-system cells, and they’re thought to play a role in the development of autoimmune disease. Study participants who reported drinking more than 5 grams (g) of alcohol per day had average SFC levels that were 7% lower than non-drinkers. (A 12-ounce serving of beer has 12.8 g of alcohol; 4 ounces of wine has 11 g and one serving of liquor has 14 grams.)
The data comes from a study population of 1,117 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and Nurses’ Health Study 2 who did not have lupus at the time they provided their blood samples. Their average age was 56, close to half (46%) were African American and 22% were antinuclear antibody (ANA) positive – a potential marker of autoimmune disease. Forty-four women developed lupus after the blood draw.
The study assessed each person’s reported alcohol intake and compared it to several types of lupus-related immune system cells, or “biomarkers.” SCF was the only biomarker significantly associated with changes in alcohol consumption. Researchers observed a 0.6% decrease in SCF concentration for every 1 g/day increase in alcohol consumption. The highest category of cumulative average alcohol drinkers had levels of SCF 9% lower than non-drinkers. Alcohol intake was not associated with ANA status.
Karen H. Costenbader, MD, MPH, lead author and Chair of the Lupus Foundation of America’s Medical-Scientific Advisory Committee notes, “Interestingly, in these healthy women we found that cumulative moderate alcohol intake (in the range of 1/2 drink-1 drink a day, the same range that is associated with a decrease in lupus risk) was associated with a decrease in SCF production. Since SCF has been shown to be elevated in lupus and even pre-lupus, we are thinking, but don’t yet know, that reducing SCF production may be a potential mechanism by which alcohol reduces lupus risk.”
Alcohol is known to affect the immune system, and previous studies have also found moderate alcohol consumption to be associated with decreased lupus risk. However, this is the first known study to identify alcohol’s association with SCF as the possible reason for what could be a cause-and-effect relationship between moderate drinking and reduced lupus risk. Learn more about lupus and alcohol consumption. Thinking about drinking? Read this first.