Moderate alcohol intake linked to improved symptoms in people with fibromyalgia

Published on 15 March 2013
Moderate alcohol intake linked to improved symptoms in people with fibromyalgia

People with fibromyalgia who drink a low or moderate amount of alcohol tend to report less severe symptoms than those who remain teetotal, a study has found.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Michigan in the US assessed 946 people with fibromyalgia, a condition that affects about one in 20 people and is characterised by chronic widespread pain, fatigue, sleep problems, headaches and depression.

They observed that 58 per cent of the participants (546 patients) drank no alcohol whatsoever.

Just over a third (36 per cent) consumed low levels of alcohol, amounting to three or less drinks per week; three per cent had moderate amounts (four to seven drinks) and three per cent drank heavily (more than seven drinks).

Analysis revealed that people who drank low or moderate amounts of alcohol tended to have less severe fibromyalgia symptoms and better quality of life than non-drinkers.

They typically reported better physical function, an increased ability to work, fewer days off work and less fatigue and pain than abstainers.

However, heavy drinkers did not enjoy the same benefits.

Lead researcher Dr Terry Oh, whose findings are published in the journal Arthritis Research & Therapy, suggested: "Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter, is low in the brain in fibromyalgia, which may go some way to explain why the nervous system reaction to pain is amplified.

"Alcohol binds to the GABA receptor in the central nervous system, which in turn may turn down pain transmission."

The researcher added that the effects of alcohol may also be due to improved mood, socialisation and tension.