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Drinking Alcohol Tied to Lower Diabetes Risk by 30 Percent

Posted: Saturday, December 03, 2011

Middle aged women who consume large amounts of refined carbohydrates might offset their risk of type II diabetes by drinking a moderate amount of alcohol.

Following more than 80,000 women over 26 years, researchers found that those who ate a diet high in refined carbohydrates had a 30% lower risk of developing diabetes than women with similar eating habits who didn't drink alcohol.

Previous research has linked moderate drinking with lower diabetes risk, but the new study tried to determine why that might be by looking specifically at women with high-glycemic diets.

Senior author Dr. Frank Hu from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts stated that, "If you eat a high carb diet without drinking alcohol, your risk of developing diabetes is increased by 30%." "However, if you eat a high carb diet, but (drink) a moderate amount of alcohol, the increased risk is reduced."

Nearly half of the estimated 26 million American adults with diabetes are women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new published study doesn't prove alcohol protects against diabetes. But Dr. Hu and his colleagues speculate that alcohol might affect release of insulin after a meal, blunting the blood-sugar spikes that promote diabetes.

They analyzed data on 82,000 women participating in the long-term Nurses' Health Study. After 26 years of follow-up, 6,950 women, or about 9%, who were diabetes free at the outset had developed the condition. The researchers also examined participants' diets, including alcohol, based on surveys taken every four years. And overall, the women who ate the most refined carbs, and a lot of meat, were at highest risk of developing diabetes. But within that group, moderate drinkers -- those whose average alcohol intake was more than 15 g (about half an ounce) a day -- had a 30% lower risk than women who didn't drink at all.

Typically, the moderate drinkers imbibed 24 grams (0.8 ounce) of alcohol a day, which translates to about two drinks per week. Only a small fraction of the subjects were heavy drinkers (about two ounces per day or more), but heavy drinking was not linked with lowered diabetes risk.

Dr. Hu isn't encouraging people to start drinking alcohol as a means of diabetes prevention, but he does think the study reveals an interesting interaction between alcohol and carbs.

"We still advocate a diet with reduced refined carbs," he said. "And for people who drink, they should do so moderately." 

Source:, Am J Clin Nutr Nov, 2011.

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