Moderate consumption of alcohol may reduce the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis by half, according to a new study.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that women who regularly indulge in more than three alcoholic drinks a week for at least 10 years have about 52 percent less likely to develop the condition compared to non-drinkers.

Swedish researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm based their results on data taken from 34,141 Swedish women born between 1914 and 1948.

Participants had filled out surveys detailing their alcohol consumption, diet, smoking history, physical activity and education level between 1987 and 1997, and they were tracked for seven years from 2003 through 2009.

Researchers found that those who drank at least three 150ml glasses of wine, equivalent to one pint of beer or two measures of liquor over a week were 52 percent less at risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, and the reduced risk was consistent regardless of whether the women drank beer, wine or liquor.

The latest study adds to the mounting evidence that show that there are positive health benefits associated to moderate drinking.  This year Harvard researchers found that men who have two drinks a day after surviving their first heart attack are significantly less likely to die from heart disease compared to non-drinkers.

“These results are in accordance with the inverse association between moderate alcohol consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease and add to the evidence that moderate alcohol consumption is not harmful and can be protective against such a chronic disease as rheumatoid arthritis,” the study authors, including Alicja Wolk and Daniela Di Giuseppe, wrote in their study.

Researchers said that the positive effect of alcohol on arthritis may be explained by the ability of alcohol to lower the body’s immune response.  They explain that rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease, is a condition in which the immune system attacks the cells that line the joints.

“However, the effect of higher doses of alcohol on the risk of rheumatoid arthritis remains unknown,” they noted, explaining that they were unable to determine the effect of high doses of alcohol because they lacked participants who were heavy drinkers.