Beer Consumption May Be Linked to MS Risk: Meta-analysis

Lindsey Shapiro, PhD avatar

by Lindsey Shapiro, PhD |

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Alcohol intake is not significantly associated with an increased risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS), but specifically drinking beer may elevate the risk, according to a recent meta-analysis.

The association, however, was limited by a small number of included studies. “Further large-scale prospective studies should be conducted to verify this conclusion,” the researchers wrote.

The study, “Alcohol consumption is associated with excessive risk of multiple sclerosis: a meta-analysis observational study,” was published in the São Paulo Medical Journal.

Environmental and lifestyle factors are thought to contribute to MS risk, progression and/or severity. Alcohol use has been identified as a risk factor for autoimmune conditions, but whether it specifically influences MS risk has remained a matter of debate.

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While some studies report an increased risk of MS with alcohol consumption, others have reported a lower risk or no association at all.

Researchers in China performed a meta-analysis of previously published studies on the topic to clarify this relationship.

Nine studies, including 211,396 subjects and 10,407 MS patients, were included. Of them, five studies were conducted in Europe, three in North America, and one in Iran.

In eight of the studies, alcohol use was surveyed among MS patients and control groups. The remaining study was a prospective study that followed a large group of women and monitored their alcohol use and whether they later developed MS.

A pooled analysis of all these studies revealed no link between overall alcohol intake and MS risk. But further subgroup analyses showed that specifically drinking beer was linked to an increased risk of the autoimmune disease. The research team noted, however, that this analysis was based on findings from only two of the studies with contradicting results, which may limit conclusions.

The researchers noted that alcohol intake had a distinct association with MS risk in males and females, “although the protective or harmful effect trends were not associated with any statistically significant difference,” the researchers wrote.

Overall, “this study found that alcohol intake was not associated with the risk of multiple sclerosis, whereas beer intake was associated with an increased risk of multiple sclerosis,” the researchers wrote.

That most of the studies involved participants recalling previous alcohol use marks a limitation of the study, the researchers said, noting that their observation “needs further verification through a large-scale prospective cohort study.”

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