Non-drinking linked to ‘significantly’ higher risk of MS

(ORDO NEWS) — Quitting alcohol significantly increases the risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS), especially if the person is also a current or former smoker, a new study says.

These results add to the evidence from numerous previous studies that alcohol reduces the activity of the immune system. According to the researchers, this could explain the known link between alcohol consumption and a reduced risk of developing MS – given that MS is characterized by an overactive immune system.

While these new findings are “relevant to clinical practice and do not justify recommending healthy people with a hereditary history of MS or people with MS to completely abstain from alcohol,” they also do not support an increase in alcohol consumption, the researchers said.

“Alcohol consumption has a detrimental effect on other diseases, and a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying our results may help identify ways to achieve protection against MS in ways other than alcohol consumption,” they write.

The study “Increased Risk of Multiple Sclerosis Associated with HLA-DRB1*15:01 and Smoking Changes With Alcohol” was published in Scientific Reports.

Multiple sclerosis is caused by the immune system attacking healthy nerve cells, but the causes of the disease are not fully understood. Environmental factors such as drug use as well as a person’s genetics are believed to contribute to the risk of developing MS.

While cigarette smoking is a well-recognized risk factor for MS, it is less clear how alcohol affects MS risk. Now a trio of researchers from Sweden have run a case-control analysis using a Swedish population database in an attempt to figure out this effect. The database created to study the environmental and genetic risk factors for MS includes people aged 16-70 years.

The analysis included 2,059 people with MS and 2,887 people without MS. Healthy controls were matched to patients by age, sex, and area of ​​residence. In both groups, about a third of the participants reported never drinking alcohol, and about half had smoked cigarettes during their lifetime.

Using statistical analysis, the researchers calculated the effect of alcohol consumption on the risk of developing MS, taking into account smoking status, as well as the presence or absence of a positive reaction to HLA-DRB1*15:01, a genetic variation known to increase the risk of developing MS. Of note, scientists have identified more than 200 genetic risk variants, or disease-associated mutations, that could potentially contribute to a predisposition to MS.

The results of the study showed that alcohol consumption was associated with a lower risk of developing MS – people who never drink had about a 20% higher risk of developing the disease. This risk reduction was more pronounced among current and past smokers than among never-smokers.

“The relationship between non-drinkers and smokers was less pronounced among former smokers than among current smokers, although it remained significant,” the researchers write. “This finding may not be surprising given the long-term negative impact of smoking on the risk of developing MS after quitting.”

Further analysis showed that people with all three risk factors non-drinkers, those who ever smoked cigarettes, and those who tested positive for the HLA-DRB1*15:01 variant were about seven times more likely to develop MS than with those who did not have any of these risk factors.

“Non-drinkers are at a higher risk of developing MS than drinkers, and non-drinkers interact with [HLA-DRB1*15:01 variant] and smoking to increase the risk of developing the disease,” the researchers write.

The team also noted similar data highlighting the link between non-drinking, smoking, and a gene variant in relation to the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

“Thus, alcohol appears to have similar effects in both MS and rheumatoid arthritis, which are complex … inflammatory diseases,” the group writes, noting that research into “the molecular mechanisms underlying specific interactions presented in this report” may be useful in advancing scientists’ understanding of both diseases.

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