Does Drinking Alcohol Lower Diabetes Risk?


A few drinks a week don’t just help you decompress — alcohol consumption may also help fight off a future onset of diabetes.

Scientists from Denmark set out to observe the link between alcohol drinking patterns and the risk of diabetes in men and women in a recent study. The researchers noted that while diabetes risk has been associated with frequent alcohol consumption, those who did consume  about nine and 14 drinks a week, for women and men respectively, were at a lower risk.

Credit: Ramsha Darbha/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

More than 76,000 study participants filled out questionnaires about their alcohol drinking patterns, such as how much they binge drink and whether they drank wine, beer or spirits. After a five year follow-up period, the researchers then calculated a beverage-specific intake and an overall average weekly alcohol intake.

Women who consumed nine drinks per week had a 58 percent lower risk for developing diabetes, while men who consumed 14 drinks per week had a 43 percent lower risk versus those who didn’t drink at all. Janne Tolstrup, of the National Institute of Public Health at the University of Southern Denmark, said the study only accounts for developing diabetes risk after five years due to its follow-up period.

“In principle we can only say something about the five-year risk from this study,” Tolstrup said in an email to CNN. “However, there is no reason to think that results would be different had we had more years of follow-up.”

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The study participants, when compared to people who were drinking less than one day a week, also had a lower risk of developing diabetes. Women had a 32 percent lower risk, while men had a 27 percent lower risk.

When it came to determining which kinds of alcohol helped lower diabetes risk, the study results weren’t as revealing. Women were found to have a troubling association with spirits like beer and liquor.

Compared to women who drank less than one drink of spirits a week, those who consumed seven or more drinks of liquor a week were linked to an 83 percent increased risk of diabetes. Tolstrup said a majority of the participants were consuming wine and beer — 70 percent of the alcohol consumed by women was wine alone — so emphasis on spirits shouldn’t be the takeaway.

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Participants who consumed seven or more glasses of wine specifically were associated with a 25 to 30 percent lower risk of developing diabetes. William T. Cefalu, chief scientific, medical and mission officer of the American Diabetes Association, said the study is strong concerning the amount of participants, but control for additional risk factors like diet is a weakness.

“The Association does not recommend that people with or at risk for diabetes consume alcohol if they don’t already, but if they do, moderate consumption is recognized as generally safe and potentially of some benefit,” Cefalu said.

During the study’s follow-up period, 859 men and 887 women developed diabetes. Due to alcohol’s association to other diseases and health issues, Tolstrup said the study shouldn’t encourage alcohol consumption.

“Any recommendations about how to drink and how much to drink should not be inferred from this study,” she said.