Due to alcohol’s effect on the human body’s central nervous system, health care professionals have advised that people at risk for developing multiple sclerosis (MS) should refrain from drinking as often as possible. Yet a recent study funded by the Swedish Medical Research Council determined that alcohol consumption has no effect on a person’s chance of developing MS.

A research team led Anna Karin Hedstrom, M.D., of the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, compared data from the Epidemiological Investigation of Multiple Sclerosis (EIMS) study against the Genes and Environment in Multiple Sclerosis (GEMS) study. Their findings were based off of 745 MS cases and 1,761 controls included in the EIMS and 5,874 MS cases with 5,246 controls in the GEMS.

"Although the effect of alcohol on already established MS has not been studied herein, the data may have relevance for clinical practice since they give no support for advising persons with MS to completely refrain from alcohol," the Swedish research team stated.

Women who admitted to high alcohol consumption in the EIMS were given a 0.6 odds ratio of developing MS. Men who reported high alcohol consumption, also in the EIMS, ended the study with a 0.5 odds ratio of developing MS. Results of the GEMS revealed a 0.7 odds ratio for both men and women. Researchers also concluded that alcohol consumption led to a decrease in tobacco’s effect.

While the effect of alcohol on a person’s risk of developing MS is just starting to garner attention, smoking’s effect is no mystery. A host of recent studies have found that smoking not only increases our risk of developing MS, but possibly speeds up disease progression and the patient’s likelihood of relapsing. Clinical trials have shown that smoking can cause temporary neurological impairment.

According to the National MS Society, multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease that affects the body’s central nervous system including the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Symptoms can range from physical numbness to vision loss and paralysis. Over two million people around the world suffer from MS, and epidemiologists are still unsure of what exactly causes the condition.  

Source: Hedstrӧm A. Inverse Association Between Alcohol Consumption, Multiple Sclerosis. JAMA. 2013.