Can Moderate Drinking Reduce The Risk of Diabetes?

By Britni de la Cretaz 07/31/17

Researchers studied a group of people developing diabetes to see how alcohol consumption impacted the disease.

man pouring a glass of red wine

It turns out that drinking alcohol regularly can reduce a person’s risk of diabetes. A new study published in the journal Diabetologia examined 70,551 Danish men and women, and indicated that drinking alcohol three to four times per week was associated with a lower risk of developing diabetes. 

According to researchers, wine was found to be particularly beneficial, likely because it contains chemical compounds that improve blood sugar balance. The authors of the research—out of the University of Southern Denmark—wrote, “Our findings suggest that alcohol drinking frequency is associated with the risk of diabetes and that consumption of alcohol over three to four weekdays is associated with the lowest risks of diabetes, even after taking average weekly alcohol consumption into account.” 

The study followed participants for an average of 4.9 years, with 859 men and 887 women developing diabetes over the course of the study. Results of the research showed a 27% reduction in men and a 32% reduction in women, as compared to abstaining from alcohol altogether. The lowest risk of diabetes was demonstrated at 14 drinks per week for men and 9 drinks per week for women.

“While these findings are interesting, we wouldn’t recommend people see them as a green light to drink in excess of the existing NHS guidelines, especially as the impact of regular alcohol consumption on the risk of type 2 will be different from one person to the next,” Dr. Emily Burns, the head of research communications at Diabetes UK, told The Guardian.

For people who already have diabetes, however, it is still suggested that they drink only occasionally, as alcohol can cause blood sugar to either rise or fall. People who use insulin to manage their diabetes should be especially mindful of alcohol’s potential to lower blood sugar. It is also recommended that people with diabetes always drink alcohol with food. 

"Alcohol actually puts patients at higher risk for low blood glucose, so it is safest to consume alcohol either with a meal that includes carbs, like starches for example, or with a carb-containing snack like crackers," says Elizabeth Staum of the Joslin Diabetes Center. The recommended intake for people with diabetes is no more than one drink per day for women, and no more than two drinks per day for men.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.