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Moderate Alcohol Consumption Lowers Diabetes Risk, But Does It Matter What You Drink?

An in-depth analysis of research finds that wine holds a significant advantage over beer and spirits
Scientists compared diabetes rates and found wine drinkers were at lower risk.
Photo by: Peter-Braakmann/iStock
Scientists compared diabetes rates and found wine drinkers were at lower risk.

Christine Dalton
Posted: June 14, 2016

Scientists have found a link between enjoying an occasional drink and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. But does it matter what type of alcohol you prefer? According to a new study, published in the Journal of Diabetes Investigation, the data suggests wine holds a big advantage over beer and spirits.

Diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With over 29 million Americans affected by the disease, researchers are have long searched for new ways to reduce its spread. Multiple studies over the past few decades have shown that moderate alcohol consumption has the potential to mitigate both the risks and the symptoms of type 2 diabetes.

In the new study, researchers from Wuhan University and Huazhong University of Science and Technology (both located in Wuhan, China) went a step further by analyzing the effects of wine, beer and spirits, respectively, on the risk of developing the chronic disease. They conducted a meta-analysis of 13 existing studies, all of which identified the risk estimates between specific alcoholic beverage (wine, beer or liquor) consumption and the incidence of type 2 diabetes. The collective data included 397,296 participants and 20,641 cases of type 2 diabetes.

To make sense of the data, the researchers converted all measurements of alcohol consumption to grams per day. According to U.S. health agencies, a "standard" drink contains 14 grams of pure alcohol. This is equivalent to a 12-ounce Budweiser, a 5-ounce glass of cool-climate Pinot Noir or a 2-ounce shot of whiskey. The scientists defined moderate consumption as 20 to 30 grams per day for beer and wine and 7 to 15 grams per day for spirits.

After analyzing all this data, they confirmed that with all three categories of drinks, moderate consumption was linked with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. However, the size of this decrease varied depending on the type of booze. Liquor drinkers saw a 5 percent risk reduction, while beer drinkers' risk was lowered by 9 percent. And wine drinkers? They saw a 20 percent reduction of risk.

The researchers also found that for beer and spirits drinkers, the benefits of alcohol only go so far. Once beer consumption surpassed 80 grams per day or spirits consumption topped 23 grams per day, the risk of type 2 diabetes actually increased. They did not find the same effect with wine.

The scientists explain wine's markedly higher protective effects and lack of increased risk with two ideas. They hypothesize that resveratrol, a polyphenol heralded for its many potential health benefits, may contribute to a more effective risk reduction. Previous studies have found that resveratrol may lower blood glucose levels. The researchers also note, however, that wine drinkers tend to reside in a higher economic bracket, which is associated with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes.

While the study's findings are strong, based on a large sample size, scientists have yet to prove a direct link between having a drink and a lower risk of diabetes. But the data suggests that it's a worthwhile topic to pursue in the lab.

Michael Allan Oconnor
Sioux Falls, SD —  June 15, 2016 5:24pm ET
I'm a believer!!

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