It’s no secret that alcohol consumption can have an impact on one’s health. Some studies have shown benefits for the heart and circulatory system from moderate drinking. On the other hand, alcohol is known to depress the central nervous system and can destroy brain cells. Excessive drinking over a prolonged period of time can cause serious cognition problems and memory loss.
Although there are countless studies regarding alcohol usage and its impact on the body and mind, there is little known specifically about the effects of alcohol consumption on people with neuromuscular diseases.
“Because these conditions are rare — and there are so many of them — there is very little research published specifically about alcohol and hereditary neuromuscular diseases,” says Constantine Farmakidis, MD, assistant professor in the Neuromuscular Division at the University of Kansas Medical Center. “When talking to patients, we often just have to infer how alcohol intake in general may apply to their individual situations. This takes into account the patient’s other medical conditions, any substance abuse history, body weight, sex, and current medications the patient is taking.”
In his personal experience, Dr. Farmakidis has seen few patients with hereditary neuromuscular disease at MDA Care Centers who have dealt with alcohol abuse issues. And while it is possible for alcohol use to lead to neuromuscular problems (neuropathy or myopathy), that usually occurs only after exposure over decades and at high doses.
“I want to emphasize that people who develop neuromuscular complications from alcohol use typically are those with a history of significant consumption over very significant periods of time,” he says.
The more common question from people with neuromuscular disease is if it is safe for them to drink alcohol at all.
How “moderate drinking” is defined in studies varies, but often it is no more than 1-2 drinks per day. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommendation is up to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for non-pregnant women.
In general, Dr. Famakidis believes alcohol consumption in low to modest doses most likely will not exacerbate neuromuscular diseases. However, before imbibing, he recommends talking with your MDA Care Center team about your body weight, sex, any substance abuse history, any other medical conditions you have, such as liver disease, and your current medications. He also recommends speaking with your MDA Care Center nutritionist about how alcohol might fit into your diet and overall health profile.
Given the lack of research and clinical studies on alcohol and neuromuscular disease, Dr. Farmakidis provides the same advice given to the general population when discussing alcohol: Either choose not to drink or practice moderation.
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