Hit the Bottle, Keep Diabetes at Bay

Type 2 diabetes risk may be lowered by moderate alcohol consumption

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Eating lots of refined carbohydrates - which are found in foods like white bread and sugary drinks - can increase your risk of diabetes. Changing your diet may lower your risk, but a little alcohol might do the same.

Women with a diet high in refined carbohydrates might be able to lower their risk of type 2 diabetes by drinking a moderate amount of alcohol.

"Drink alcohol and eat carbohydrates in moderation."

Not much is known about how alcohol intake impacts glycemic index and glycemic load - measurements that show how foods affect blood sugar and insulin. As such, Frank B. Hu, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues set out to see if alcohol intake changes the relationship between carbohydrate intake and the risk of type 2 diabetes in women.

In other words, does drinking alcohol help women avoid diabetes by changing the type and amount of carbohydrates that they eat?

The researchers found that women who eat lots of refined carbohydrates and drink a moderate amount of alcohol have a 30 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes, compared to women with a similar diet who do not drink alcohol.

Even though this study does not give definite proof that alcohol prevents diabetes, it does show an interesting relationship between alcohol and carbohydrates.

It is also important to note that the potentially beneficial effects of alcohol would depend on the the type of alcohol being consumed. According to Mark Bans, D.C., who was not involved in the study, "Typically, beers can have a range of carbohydrates in them and many mixed drinks have huge amounts of sugar in them. Pure alcohols do not raise sugar levels as they contain only alcohol sugars and are processed differently by the liver."

"There is a difference between a glass of wine with dinner and a 6 pack of beer. There is a reason why people are said to have 'beer bellies,' though this is typically attributed to men more than women. Any excessive amount of carbs is not good for the body. Excess carbs contribute to visceral and extra body fat, and one might argue that if a person was drinking a larger amount of alcohol on a regular basis, it is doubtful that they would be paying good attention to healthy nutrition or exercise."

For their study, Dr. Hu and his fellow researchers followed 81,827 women for 26 years. None of the participants had type 2, heart disease, or cancer at the beginning of the study. Every two to four years, the researchers calculated the women's glycemic index (effect of carbohydrates on blood sugar levels), glycemic load (the quality and quantity of carbohydrates based on glycemic index), total carbohydrates, and alcohol intake.

By the end of the study, 6,950 women had developed type 2 diabetes. That is about 9 percent of the total study population.

The women who drank more alcohol (15 grams or more per day) had a lower risk of type 2 diabetes than the women who drank no alcohol.

These findings should not encourage people to starting drinking more alcohol in order to protect against diabetes. Rather, people should make changes to their carbohydrate intake and get more exercise.

The study is published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 28, 2011
Last Updated:
November 29, 2011