A new study found more health benefits with moderate drinking … but it does matter what you drink and whether you're male or female.
Drink two glasses of wine and don’t call me in the morning.
It’s the advice you wish you’d get from your doctor. Well, now that may be a possibility — at least when it comes to diabetes.
People who drink moderately may have a lower risk of developing diabetes than those who abstain, according to a new study published in Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.
“The study by Holst and colleagues took data from a health survey for over 70,000 Danish adults and observed fewer new cases of diabetes with moderate alcohol intake than with abstinence over the course of five years,” said Dr. Ronald Tamler, medical director of the Mount Sinai Clinical Diabetes Institute, who was not involved in the study.
The lowest risk of developing diabetes was seen in people consuming moderate amounts of alcohol — 14 drinks per week for men (43 percent lower risk), and nine drinks per week for women (58 percent lower risk).
One standard drink is equal to 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
So few participants reported binge drinking that the researchers were unable to find a clear link either way between binge drinking and diabetes risk.
Researchers followed the participants — who self-reported their drinking habits — for five years.
People with diabetes have high levels of blood glucose — sugar — which can lead to other complications, such as heart or kidney disease, blindness, or amputation of the feet or lower limbs.
The study was funded by the Danish Ministry of the Interior and Health, and the nonprofit Tryg Foundation.
What people drink matters
Researchers also looked at what people were drinking.
Men and women who had seven or more glasses of wine per week had a 25-30 percent lower risk of diabetes, compared with people who had less than one drink per week, according to a press release.
This fits with an earlier meta-analysis of 13 studies that found that moderate wine drinkers had a 20 percent lower risk of diabetes, compared with abstainers or light drinkers.
The researchers suggest that natural phytochemical compounds found in red wine may have beneficial effects on blood sugar levels.
Dr. William Cefalu, chief scientific, medical, and mission officer for the American Diabetes Association, cautioned that “given the observational nature of the data, it’s difficult to draw firm conclusions about any real difference between men and women in the effect of spirit consumption.”
Moderation is key
Cefalu told Healthline that one of the strengths of the study was the large number of people surveyed.
Participants who drank moderately reported eating healthier and having a lower BMI, both of which could lower their risk of diabetes.
The new study, though, fits with earlier research. Still, some experts recommend caution when it comes to drinking.
“Many studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption may moderately reduce the risk for diabetes and for cardiovascular disease,” said Cefalu. “On the other hand, the potential risks of excessive alcohol consumption are serious and well-known.”
However, for people who don’t have diabetes, having several glasses of wine or beer a week may not be harmful, depending on what other health conditions they may have.
“My patients are happy when they ‘confess’ that they have a glass of wine with dinner, and I tell them they should feel free to continue their evening routine,” said Tamler.
Still, there’s not enough research to show that picking up drinking if you don’t drink will prevent diabetes.
“I do not advise patients to start drinking just to reduce risk of developing diabetes,” said Tamler. “I also counsel against binge drinking, which has deleterious health effects.”
The bottom line is that when it comes to drinking, moderation — as in most things — is key.
“Health risks increase when people overdo it, so I recommend drinking in moderation — up to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men,” said Tamler.
This matches what the American Diabetes Association recommends for people with diabetes in its Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes—2017.
“Moderate consumption in people with diabetes may not have major detrimental effects on long-term blood glucose control,” said Cefalu.
People with diabetes, though, should drink with caution and avoid excessive alcohol consumption, even the occasional binge drinking.
“Once somebody has diabetes, different forms of alcohol can have very different effects,” said Tamler. “Beer may increase blood sugar levels while hard liquor may lead to dangerously low glucose levels.”