Can Boozing Really Lower Your Diabetes Risk?

You may have recently seen headlines soaring over a new study that seemingly reveals drinking alcohol can lower an individual’s risk of type 2 diabetes. But before you hit the liquor or wine store, let me tell you, there’s a lot more to this study’s findings than many news outlets care to fully explain. This is not to say that the results of the study published in the journal, Diabetologia, are in correct; however, it is safe to say that it can be hard to read the results between the lines.

First thing first: Plenty of research has found that drinking alcohol moderately is generally safe for your health, especially if what’s in your glass is red wine. I’m a supporter of most things in moderation. It is quite the stretch, however, to proclaim that moderate drinking—or any drinking for that matter—can make you healthier in total.

The scoop on the study

Researchers examined data from the Danish Health Examination Survey from 2007 to 2008. Though this data is a decade old, it was, in fact, substantial. It followed 28,704 men and 41,847 women for a period of just under five years. Instead of looking at the overall amounts of alcohol consumed by the individuals on a weekly basis, they examined when the individuals were drinking and how much they consumed in each sitting. To help them determine this, they read questionnaires that the participants had filled out. These self-reported documents covered everything from how often the individuals were drinking, how often they binge drank, and how much wine, beer and hard liquor they consumed weekly. Another key bit of information the researchers received was how many of these participants were diabetic.

Their results concluded that male participants who had 14 drinks per week and female participants who had 9 drinks per week had the lowest risk of developing diabetes. These groups were also less likely to develop the disease than participants of either sex who had one drink or less per week. When they looked further into the types of alcohol that were linked to diabetes, they found that participants who drank wine had the lowest risk. In men, beer drinking was also linked to a reduce risk while hard the risk factor for drinking hard alcohol seemed to remain neutral. The women didn’t get off so easy in that department, as ladies who drank more than seven servings of spirits a week had an increased risk in diabetes.

Bottom line

So, all in all, what did the study really find? It certainly found that moderate drinkers happened to have a lower risk of developing diabetes, but it’s not quite proof that boozing—even moderately—can actually cause any kind of difference in one’s diabetes risk. Red wine does have its benefits—it contains the powerful antioxidant resveratrol which has been linked to improving memory and protection against Alzheimer’s. Red wine tannins have also been linked to protecting against heart disease, thanks to the procyanidins they contain. It may even be true that the polyphenols in red wine can improve insulin resistance. But, at end of day, alcohol turns to sugar, sugar drives insulin resistance and fat storage. I’m all for drinking the occasional glass of red wine. However, the concept of drinking alcohol, in general, even moderately, should not be linked to a health benefit—especially one of this nature, that being diabetes.

Nearly 26 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes and another 79 million Americans have prediabetes and are at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. Certainly we health care providers cannot condone anything other than lifestyle modifications that truly help protect against this disease, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.

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