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Health Watch: Wine Can Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes in Overweight Women

Also, other studies link wine consumption to lower ovarian cancer rates and better hearing

Esther Mobley
Posted: November 13, 2014

When it comes to the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, past research has found that alcohol consumption should obey the Goldilocks rule: Not too much, not too little, but just enough. Moderate drinking seems to protect against type 2 diabetes better than either heavy or light drinking.

New research from the French Institute of Health and Medical research confirms those findings, but goes further. The research looked at the effects of wine in particular, and studied only women. The results suggest that among women, wine is protective against type 2 diabetes in overweight individuals. It also found that a woman’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes is lower if she starts drinking wine earlier in life.

"We do think that a moderate wine consumption can be beneficial for all the individuals, not only the overweight ones,” Dr. Guy Fagherazzi, lead author of the study, told Wine Spectator. “It is just that overweight women are already at higher risk than [other] women, and we were able to see the effect of wine in this subgroup."

Fagherazzi and his colleagues analyzed data from 66,485 women obtained in a French study of female teachers whose health and diet were tracked between 1993 and 2007. During that period, 1,372 of the women developed type 2 diabetes. Fagherazzi's team focused on two factors—wine consumption at the study baseline and history of wine consumption throughout life.

Amongst all the women, consumption of 0.5 to 1 glass of wine per day showed a small reduction in type 2 diabetes risk. But when the team focused on women whose body mass index was 25 or greater, consumption of 2 or more glasses per day was strongly associated with a decrease in risk.

Meanwhile, measured separately, those who had begun drinking wine at a younger age, 20 or even earlier, were at a lower risk of developing the disease.

Why might wine help fend off type 2 diabetes? Fagherazzi suspects that wine's antioxidants may play a large role: "A large polyphenol intake, especially those present in wine, has been consistently related to a decreased risk of cardio-metabolic diseases." Although some hypothesize that alcohol itself may be protective, Fagherazzi said that "the effect of ethanol on insulin sensitivity is still debated today."

Fagherazzi's next project will focus on whether wine consumption can mitigate complications caused by blood vessel damage among people who already suffer from diabetes.

Can You Repeat That? Wine May Protect Against Hearing Loss

Many wine lovers are aware that drinking wine can affect their heart, their muscles, even their teeth. But their ears? Research in the past has found that alcohol has both good and bad effects on auditory function. A new study, published in the journal Alcohol, finds that alcohol consumption in general does not seem to be a factor in hearing loss in women. Beer consumption, however, was linked to an increased risk, while wine was linked to a decreased risk.

"Hearing loss is considered to be an unavoidable companion to aging," Dr. Sharon Curhan, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and an author of the study, told Wine Spectator. "However, our research has shown that hearing loss may not be inevitable."

For this study, researchers followed 65,424 women, between ages 27 and 44 at the study's start. The vast majority of women's alcohol consumption remained relatively constant over the course of the study. Over 18 years, around 12,384 cases of hearing loss were reported.

Curhan's analysis of the data showed that the women who drank five or more beers per week had a 15 percent greater risk of hearing loss, compared with those who drank less than one beer per month. Wine drinkers, however, showed a very different picture: Those who drank five or more servings of wine per week (one serving defined as a 4-ounce glass of wine) had a 16 percent lower risk compared with infrequent wine drinkers. Total alcohol consumption did not show a significant association with hearing loss either way.

"The ear is highly metabolically active," Curhan explained. "It relies on having a consistent and adequate blood supply as well as effective mechanisms for protecting against damage from the oxidative byproducts of metabolism." Wine, an antioxidant and promoter of cochlear blood flow, seems like it may perform both of these functions, while it's possible that beer consumption leads to larger increases in serum uric acid levels, which may be related to hearing loss.

Red Wine Polyphenols May Protect Against Ovarian Cancer

Flavonoids, a group of polyphenolic compounds found in some plant-based foods and beverages such as wine, citrus fruits, chocolate and black tea, are known to confer health benefits ranging from preventing cardiovascular disease to anti-inflammation. Now a new study, recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, finds that flavonoids may also help prevent ovarian cancer.

When it comes to ovarian cancer, "few modifiable risk factors have been established," the authors wrote. Happily, their research suggests "that simple changes in food intake could have an impact on ovarian cancer risk."

Scientists at Harvard University and the University of East Anglia, in the United Kingdom, analyzed data from approximately 172,000 women, ages 25 to 55 at the study's start, for between 16 to 22 years. Of those, 723 developed ovarian cancer during the study. Information about the women's diets allowed the scientists to calculate their intake of individual flavonoid compounds.

Overall, total flavonoid intake did not show an association with ovarian cancer risk. However, when the researchers compared the women with the highest consumption of flavonols and flavonones—two types of flavonoids—to the women with the lowest consumption of these compounds, the high consumers were significantly less likely to develop ovarian cancer. Flavonones in particular were strongly associated with a lower risk of developing serous tumors, an aggressive form of the disease.

Why might flavonoids protect against ovarian cancer? Some compounds, especially quercetin, one of red wine's more famous health-promoting chemicals, may regulate cellular signaling pathways. Past research has shown that quercetin may be able to stop the proliferation of ovarian cancer cells, even at concentrations obtainable through a normal diet.

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