What is the effect of alcohol consumption on the risk of chronic widespread pain? A Mendelian randomisation study using UK Biobank

Marcus Beasley* (Corresponding Author), Maxim B Freidin, Neil Basu, Frances M K Williams, Gary J Macfarlane

*Corresponding author for this work

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Studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption is strongly associated with reduced reporting of chronic widespread pain (CWP). The study designs used however are prone to confounding and are not able to establish the direction of causality. The current study overcomes these problems by using the Mendelian randomisation design to determine the effect of alcohol consumption on the likelihood of reporting CWP. The UK Biobank recruited 500,000 participants aged between 40 and 69 years. Data collected included questions on chronic pain and alcohol consumption, and biological samples providing genotypic information. Alcohol consumption was categorised as 'weekly consumption' or 'non or infrequent'. Participants were classified by genotype according to alleles of the rs1229984 SNP, either 'GG' or 'AA/AG'. CWP was defined as pain all over the body for more than 3 months that interfered with activities. Associations between genotype, CWP and alcohol consumption were tested by logistic regression. Instrumental variable analysis was used to calculate the causal effect of weekly alcohol consumption on CWP. Persons with 'GG' genotype had an increased risk of CWP (odds ratio, OR 1.17, 99% confidence interval CI 1.01-1.35) and were more likely to consume alcohol weekly (OR 1.76, 1.70-1.81) compared to those with 'AA/AG' genotype. Weekly consumption of alcohol was associated with reduced risk of CWP (OR 0.33, 0.31-0.35), but instrumental variable analysis did not show a causal effect of alcohol consumption on reducing CWP (OR 1.29, 0.96-1.74). An interpretation of observational population studies as showing a protective effect of alcohol on CWP is not supported.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)501-507
Number of pages7
Issue number2
Early online date26 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019

Bibliographical note

This research has been conducted using the UK Biobank resource, application no. 1144, and was funded by the University of Aberdeen. MF is funded by the EU FP7 project PainOmics (contract #602736). The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare


  • alcohol
  • drinking
  • chronic widespread pain
  • epidemiology
  • mendelian randomisation
  • Chronic widespread pain
  • Alcohol
  • Drinking
  • Epidemiology
  • Mendelian randomisation


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