Alcohol consumption has been invariably linked numerous times to a spectrum of medical conditions—cardiovascular disease, liver disease, nutrient deficiencies and obesity, the list goes on and on.

Despite this harmful association with other conditions, new research has in fact revealed that alcohol consumption on most days of the week exerts a protective effect – and reduces the risk of developing diabetes.

How alcohol diminishes risk of Type 2 diabetes

In contrast to common belief, researchers have shown that consuming alcohol approximately three to four times a week is more beneficial compared to consuming no alcohol at all.

Wine, which has long been classified as the healthier form of alcohol, contains antioxidants, and reduces risk of cardiovascular disease – when consumed in moderate amounts. Consumption of wine is now linked to reduced onset of Type 2 diabetes as it is shown to stabilise blood glucose concentrations, which is important in hyperglycaemic conditions such as diabetes.

The research study included approximately 70,000 participants. Amongst these participants, those who consume alcohol three to four times a week versus those who refrain from alcohol totally showed a remarkable reduction in risk of 27% in men and 32% in women.

The type of alcohol consumed was also shown to have an important effect, as wine was more efficacious in reducing risk when compared to beer. This can be attributed to the fact that wine contains several other substances such as polyphenols, which are considered to be both beneficial in regulating blood pressure and blood sugar.

The study revealed that men who consumed approximately 14 drinks per week had a 43% lower risk of developing diabetes compared to men who consumed no alcohol at all.

For women, the amount of alcohol required was smaller, with nine drinks of alcohol per week reducing the risk of diabetes by 58%. Whilst alcohol was shown to have a generally beneficial effect, beer consumption had little effect on diabetes risk in women. Women are also advised against gin as spirits were shown to elevate diabetes risk by 83%.

Shortcomings of the research and its applicability

Whilst this new research is promising in terms of its scope to promote the protective effects of alcohol – it has several limitations that question the validity of the correlation between alcohol consumption and onset of diabetes. For instance, the study participants were only asked to comment on their lifestyle and drinking habits at one point of time; these lifestyle factors could have easily altered over the time period that this study was conducted.

This research also to an extent condones the other harmful effects of regular alcohol consumption such as deteriorating liver function and vitamin deficiency. Whilst alcohol may be a protective factor, there are other alternative methods to reduce the risk of diabetes such as maintaining a healthy weight and performing regular aerobic exercise.

“Alcohol is associated with 50 different conditions, so we're not saying ‘go ahead and drink alcohol’,” comments Prof Janne Tolstrup, lead researcher of the study.

This study was also unable to distinguish between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, which is essential in understanding the mechanism through which alcohol exerts a protective effect.

Dr Graham Wheeler, a health professional from the University College London, states that, “Establishing a biological mechanism for how this protective effect might work is key to understanding the findings of these types of study.” Only once the biological pathway through which alcohol reduces the risk of diabetes is established – could the individuals be advised to alter their patterns of alcohol consumption.

Despite new research endorsing the beneficial effects of alcohol, a plethora of research still suggests alcohol increases the risk of certain forms of cancer and heart disease. Therefore, professionals advise that, “People should keep this in mind when thinking about how much they drink.”

Instead of focusing on simply increasing alcohol consumption, individuals should aspire to integrate this new research with adoption of a healthy lifestyle that is beneficial in warding off a spectrum of medical conditions. MIMS

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