Drinking alcohol regularly may not be too bad for the health, at least for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers or those at high risk of acquiring the painful condition.

A study by British researchers showed that non-drinkers were more prone to developing the debilitating condition than those who drank alcohol more than 10 days per month.

The study by researchers in Sheffield, England published recently in the U.K. journal Rheumatology also indicate that alcohol alleviates the symptoms of RA.

The research involved the comparison of 873 rheumatoid arthritis patients with 1,004 non-RA sufferers. All participants underwent blood tests and X-ray and joint examination. They also answered a questionnaire on alcohol use.

Results of the exams showed that the drinkers had less damage to their joints, low levels of inflammation of joints, and lesser joint pain, swelling and disability compared to the non-drinkers, according to James Maxwell, a rheumatologist at the Rotherham Foundation NHS Trust and author of the study.

The less severe RA symptoms among drinkers were attributed to the alcohol's blunting effect on the immune system, though the study emphasized that this suspicion is still subject to confirmation through more research.

An autoimmune disease, the immune system of an RA sufferer attacks the tissues lining the joints or synovium causing inflammation and tissue overgrowth. The condition is untreatable and symptoms can only be alleviated through nutrition, drug therapy, supplements, and exercise.

There are an estimated 21 million people who suffer from RA worldwide.