It might seem counterintuitive but alcohol might actually reduce fibromyalgia symptoms, such as neck pain, according to researchers at the Mayo Clinic. The mechanism behind this appears to be the boost in levels of an inhibitory neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), triggered by low to moderate alcohol consumption but the conclusion is presented with some degree of caution as a number of drugs for fibromyalgia can interact badly with alcohol.
Should fibro patients with neck pain have a glass of wine or a beer to relieve symptoms, then, or is it safer to stick to teetotalism for fibromyalgia?
Quality of Life Better with Alcohol
The conclusions borne out of this latest analysis of data found that those patients with fibromyalgia whose alcohol consumption was low to moderate had less severe symptoms than patients who didn’t drink at all. Patients’ quality of life was also higher and the GABA-agonist effect of alcohol is thought to be a likely cause of this association. However, it may be that patients whose symptoms are particularly bad and who take higher doses of drugs for fibromyalgia are also more likely to avoid drinking alcohol because of caution over medication interacting with alcohol and general concern for healthy lifestyle choices.
Do Fibromyalgia Patients Avoid Alcohol Consumption?
Data from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that 51.5% of adults over 18 years of age in the US drink regularly and that 13.6% drink infrequently. In contrast, more than half (58%) of the patients with fibromyalgia included in this study did not drink alcohol at all. Low levels of alcohol consumption (less than three drinks a week) were reported by 36% of patients and 3% reported either moderate (3-7 drinks a week) or heavy (more than 7 drinks a week) alcohol consumption.
Drinkers are Better Educated, Use Fewer Drugs and Have Steady Employment
Interestingly, drinkers tended to have higher levels of education, a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) and a lower frequency of unemployment and opioid use than those who didn’t drink at all. Again, this could be because those with severe fibromyalgia symptoms do not have the same capacity for study and work as those with less severe symptoms and that these patients also feel less inclined to engage in activities, such as drinking, that could compromise health further. After taking these differences into account the researchers also noted that drinkers and non-drinkers had variations in the number of tender points, physical function, job ability and work missed, and pain, general health perception and social functioning. Drinkers with low to moderate alcohol consumption had less severe fibromyalgia symptoms and better quality of life than both non-drinkers and heavy drinkers.
GABA for Fibromyalgia
GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter and it is known to be diminished in the brain in fibromyalgia, meaning that neural pathways are more sensitive and that the nervous system is more responsive to pain than in those without the condition. One of the effects of alcohol is that it binds to the GABA receptor in the central nervous system, dulling pain and responsiveness. Although this may make some people more accident-prone when drinking heavily, it could provide benefit to those with this increased sensitivity to pain. The researchers also pointed out that alcohol can have a positive effect on mood, aid socialization and reduce isolation, anxiety and tension and that this could be a factor in the lower symptom severity in fibromyalgia patients who consume alcohol at low to moderate levels.
Have Fibromyalgia? Have a Drink… Maybe
The study’s authors, led by Terry H. Oh, MD, from the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota,.suggested that “future studies should examine whether alcohol could have a salutary effect on pain and other symptoms in fibromyalgia.” They expressed caution over extrapolating the findings however, as there were only small numbers of heavy and moderate drinkers in the group. They do not suggest fibromyalgia patients start or increase drinking alcohol to reduce fibromyalgia symptoms such as neck pain.
Chul H Kim, Ann Vincent, Daniel J Clauw, Connie A Luedtke, Jeffrey M Thompson, Terry D Schneekloth and Terry H Oh, Association between alcohol consumption and symptom severity and quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia, Arthritis Res Ther. 2013;15:R42. Published online March 15, 2013.
While this research may suggest fibromyalgia patients see some benefit from low to moderate alcohol consumption the same is not true for most neck pain patients: Find out why alcohol should be avoided by those with degenerative disc disease and don’t forget to follow PainNeck on Facebook for future updates on all causes of neck pain.