Does Alcohol Improve Fibromyalgia?

Research Brief

In news that's seemingly contradictory to reports that fibromyalgia leads to alcohol intolerance in many, researchers report that people with fibromyalgia who drink alcohol have less pain and better quality of life than those who don't drink.

Researchers gathered information from nearly 950 people with fibromyalgia, 58% of whom did not consume alcohol at all. Of those who did drink, the vast majority reported low levels of consumption.

Participants answered questions regarding physical function, well-being, missed work days, and major fibromyalgia symptoms (pain, fatigue, morning tiredness, stiffness, job difficulty, anxiety, and depression.

Researchers say drinkers had higher education levels, lower body-mass index, less unemployment, and less opioid (narcotic) use than non-drinkers. Moderate drinkers had the lowest overall symptom load and higher quality of life scores than the other groups.

Also, they say sow and moderate drinkers had better general-health perceptions and social function than non-drinkers.

Researchers say they're not sure what is behind these results. Since this is the first study of fibromyalgia and alcohol consumption, they don't have other results to compare these to. However, they say that these results reflect those of the general population, in which drinkers overall have better quality of life scores, less chronic pain, and higher productivity.

Happy woman holding glass of red wine on sofa
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What Does it Mean?

It's hard to really decipher this one. We know from other research that alcohol, especially wine, has some health benefits. But is that what's at work here?

I think you really have to look at some socioeconomic factors. The moderate drinkers were more likely to have more education and to be employed. That means they're more likely to have health insurance, and therefore might have better doctors and more access to treatments. They may have less financial stress due to illness, too.

Also, we have to consider why people choose not to drink. A lot of people with fibromyalgia find that they can't tolerate alcohol. Could alcohol intolerance be a sign of more severe illness? We don't know. Are people who need more pain meds avoiding alcohol because of the negative interaction? It's certainly possible.

So really, this study may just show that sicker people drink less, or that people with better access to treatment are less sick. Neither of those options is much of a revelation.

However, it's far too early to discount the possibility that something about alcohol is beneficial - at least to some of us. To know for sure, we'll need not only more research, but research that focuses on what kinds of drinks people are consuming.

Meanwhile, we have to judge for ourselves whether we can tolerate alcohol and whether it's a wise choice for us based on medications and other lifestyle factors.

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