A new study claims that people who drink occasionally have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who never drink.
A group of Danish researchers found that men and women who drink a few glasses of alcohol three to four times a week have the lowest risk of developing diabetes. Specifically, men who enjoyed 14 drinks each week and women who had nine drinks a week seemed to have the lowest risk of type 2 diabetes, compared to people who never drink or who drink too much.
The findings were published Thursday in the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, Diabetologia.
Spreading drinks throughout the week helps to lower risk of type 2 diabetes
Overall, the researchers found that men who drink frequently had a 27 percent lower risk and women had a 32 percent lower risk. Senior researcher Janne Tolstrup noted that people saw most benefits if they spread those drinks throughout the week, rather than drinking them in one or two days.
“Drinking pattern seemed to play a role for the risk of diabetes,” said Tolstrup, a professor at the National Institute of Public Health of the University of Southern Denmark, according to CBS News. “Drinking frequency was important, as those who were drinking three to four times per week had lower risk as compared to those drinking only once per week – regardless of the total weekly amount.”
Tolstrup noted the potential protective effect of alcohol seemed to be limited to beer and wine. Their results showed that hard liquor provided no benefit to men, while women could actually increase their risk of diabetes if they drank those liquors.
Several studies previously found that light to moderate drinking caused a lower risk of diabetes compared to not drinking at all, while heavy drinking proved to have an equal or higher risk. The World Health Organization has said that harmful use of alcohol contributes to over 200 diseases or injuries. However, WHO has also said that moderate drinking could be beneficial when it comes to diabetes.
Beer for men and wine for women
The researchers analyzed data from 28,704 men and 41,837 women aged 18 years or older who completed the Danish Health Examination Survey. The participants had been asked to report their drinking and lifestyle habits from 2007-2008 through 2012. During that time, 859 men and 887 women developed diabetes, said the researchers.
The research showed that people with the lowest risk of developing diabetes were those who drank moderately on a weekly basis. Men who drank 14 alcoholic beverages each week had a 43 percent lower risk of developing the disease, while women who drank nine drinks had a 53 percent lower risk, compared to those who never drank alcohol.
“In principle, we can only say something about the five-year risk from this study,” Tolstrup told CNN via email. “However, there is no reason to think that results would be different had we had more years of follow up.”
Tolstrup added that a 10-year-long follow up, for example, could result in drinking and lifestyle habits changing, thus causing more “noise” in the results. When it came to frequency, the lowest risk overall was seen in those who only drank three to four days a week.
The researchers also analyzed diabetes risk in relation to the participants’ alcoholic beverage of choice. For instance, men who drank beer one to six times a week lowered their risk of diabetes by 21 percent compared to those who drank less than one beer weekly.
On the other hand, women who drank seven or more drinks of hard liquor a week saw an 83 percent increased risk of diabetes compared to those who drank less than one “shot” a week. However, Tolstrup warned those results shouldn’t be emphasized too much, as few people drink lots of spirits (hard liquors). In fact, the beverage of choice for 70 percent of women was wine.
Expert believes results of new study could be flawed
The researchers noted they couldn’t tell why alcohol lowered diabetes risk for the participants, as their study was observational rather than a clinical trial or experiment.
“Alcohol has been suggested to increase insulin sensitivity and lower fasting insulin resistance, which might play an important role in the progression of diabetes,” she said, according to CBS News. “But again, due to limited knowledge about mechanisms between alcohol and [blood sugar] control, the mechanism explaining our results is not clear.”
Adrian Vella of the Mayo Clinic told CBS News that studies that rely on participants’ self-reported food and alcohol consumption could be inaccurate, since they may struggle to recall exactly what they ate and drank in the past.
Vella also noted that researchers should assess lifestyle habits that might lower type 2 diabetes in their survey, such as family history of the disease and daily exercise. Plus, he added that it’s unlikely that a lot of people would develop the disease in the short follow-up time of five years.