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Health Watch: White Wines Linked to Lower Risk of Diabetes-Related Vision Problems

Moderate consumption of white and fortified wines could reduce diabetic retinopathy; leftover grape pomace shows some health potential

Kasey Carpenter
Posted: November 17, 2015

A new study out of Australia has found a correlation between the moderate intake of wine and a reduction in diabetic retinopathy, a vision problem brought on by diabetes. The authors also discovered that people who suffer from type 2 diabetes and consume white wines or fortified wines like Port and Sherry had a lower risk of diabetic retinopathy than those who drink red wine.

Diabetic retinopathy is triggered when diabetes begins to damage blood vessels at the back of the eye. At first, it may cause vision problems; eventually it leads to blindness. Previous research has shown that moderate wine consumption can have positive effects in diabetes patients.

A team led by Dr. Eva Fenwick of the Center for Eye Research at the University of Melbourne in Australia tracked the drinking habits of 395 participants who had type 2 diabetes. The subjects’ drinking habits ranged from no alcohol consumption to heavy consumption (defined by the team as four or more drinks per day).

What was interesting, according to their analysis, published in the October issue of the Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications, was that the patients who showed the lowest odds of developing diabetic retinopathy were those who regularly drank what the team labeled the white wines/sparkling wines category or the Sherry/Port category. People who drank moderate amounts of white wines or sparkling wines had a 2.4 percent risk of diabetic retinopathy, while moderate Port and Sherry partakers had a 3.9 percent associated risk. Participants who drank moderate amounts of spirits showed a 49.7 percent association with diabetic retinopathy, while moderate red wine drinkers showed a 12.2 percent associated risk.

The team does not know the reasons for the lower risk. It’s possible that white and fortified wine drinkers may differ from other drinkers in diet, health, exercise or socioeconomic background. A longer-term study, with controls for such factors, could be the next step in seeing if diabetes sufferers may want to opt for white or bubbly over red.

After the Wine Is Drained, Health Benefits Remain

New research in Chile suggests that the health benefits of wine don’t stop with what goes in the bottle. A team found that men suffering from early symptoms of diabetes or cardiovascular disease who consumed a small amount of flour made from winegrape pomace, the solids left behind when red wine finishes fermenting, showed lower blood pressure and better blood glucose levels.

Some winemakers have increasingly seen pomace as an environmentally friendly resource, something that can be reused in food products, cosmetics or even as an alternative fuel source. One application that has been showing promise is the use of winegrape pomace flour. The grape solids are dried and ground up, producing a gluten-free substitute to baking flour.

A team of researchers from the Center of Molecular Nutrition and Chronic Diseases at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, led by Inés Urquiaga, examined possible health benefits of the pomace flour and found some promising results.

For their study, published in the journal Biological Research, the team tracked the diets of 38 men, ranging in age from 30 to 65, who had at least one component of “metabolic syndrome”—a condition that often precedes diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Of the 38 men, 25 were given 20 grams of pomace flour at lunchtime. The 20 grams contained 10 grams of dietary fiber, 822 milligrams of polyphenols and the antioxidant potential of about a half-cup of blueberries.

After 16 weeks, the group that ate the pomace flour showed decreased blood pressure as well as glucose levels. Their levels of several compounds associated with a plant-based diet increased. And there were no adverse effects on waist circumference or HDL cholesterol levels.

What makes the study interesting is the relatively small amount of flour needed and that the men did not alter their lifestyles in any other way—they did not otherwise change their eating habits or alter any exercise regimen they may have had.

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