Though numerous studies have shown the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, most researchers are hesitant to recommend that someone who doesn't drink should start for their health. Many scientific reports do just the opposite, cautioning readers that, just because wine was shown to have a certain health benefit in a particular study, doesn't mean nondrinkers should suddenly begin enjoying a daily glass.
But now a recent report from a study on wine and type 2 diabetes suggests that those with the disease might experience benefits if they switch from abstention to moderate drinking, with evidence to back up the claim.
The paper, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is a summary of findings from the CASCADE (CArdiovaSCulAr Diabetes and Ethanol) trial, in which 224 participants with type 2 diabetes who previously abstained from alcohol were instructed to drink a glass of either red wine, white wine, or water each day, and follow a Mediterranean diet. The researchers, a team from Israel's Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, have previously published papers on specific aspects of the trial, but the new report rounds up the major findings.
"Although several ... studies demonstrated protective associations between moderate drinking and cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, hypertension, certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, neurological disorders and metabolic syndrome, no conclusive recommendations exist regarding moderate wine consumption," state the authors. "Here, we … suggest that initiating moderate alcohol consumption among well controlled persons with type 2 diabetes is apparently safe."
They point to two key substudies of the trial that illustrate this conclusion. One substudy, as previously reported, reveals that wine was shown to slow the progression of atherosclerosis in diabetics.
The second substudy focused on heart rate variability (HRV), or the variation in the time interval between heartbeats. (Poor HRV is common in type 2 diabetics, and is a predictor of cardiovascular disease and overall mortality.)
To determine whether moderate, regular wine consumption had an effect on HRV in type 2 diabetics, the researchers selected 45 of the trial's participants—22 of whom were assigned to drink red wine and 23 of whom were assigned to drink water—to participate in 24-hour electrocardiogram tests, both at the beginning of the trial and after two years. They found no significant changes, meaning that while there wasn't necessarily a positive long-term impact on HRV for abstainers who began drinking, there wasn't any apparent danger, either. Coupled with the atherosclerosis findings, this suggests wine is a healthy option.
The study also found differences between men and women: Women who drank red wine had significantly increased HDL (known as "the good cholesterol") levels compared to those who drank white wine or water; the men's groups saw no such differences in these levels. This finding, along with other differential effects of alcohol between men and women, should be taken into consideration when thinking about drinking and your health, the researchers say.
It's worth noting that the study used funding from the Mediterranean Diet Foundation, a Barcelona-based nonprofit that promotes research on the Mediterranean diet, of which moderate wine consumption is a traditional part; the researchers declare that they have no conflict of interest in regard to this study.
Of course, any study on wine and health—whether it's good news or bad—does not replace medical advice from a professional. Individuals, regardless of whether they have diabetes, or any other disease for that matter, should check with their doctor before making decisions about drinking for their health.
As the study's text notes: "Although both the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association discuss moderate alcohol consumption in their guidelines, a conclusive recommendation is not given, [nor is] a recommendation to initiate moderate intake." This research might help change that.
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