Alcohol consumption has been linked to serious negative health outcomes in much research, but also to instances of health benefit. In the latest research, to be presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Conference 2022, data from 312,400 adults in the UK indicates that moderate alcohol consumption, taken at mealtime, may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
“The effects of alcohol consumption on health have been described as a double-edged sword because of its apparent abilities to cut deeply in either direction – harmful or helpful, depending on how it is consumed,” said study author Dr. Hao Ma, a biostatistical analyst at the Tulane University Obesity Research Center in New Orleans. “Previous studies have focused on how much people drink and have had mixed results. Very few studies have focused on other drinking details, such as the timing of alcohol intake.”
In their analysis, the researchers used data from adults enrolled on the UK Biobank, who reported being regular drinkers of alcohol. The participants, all of whom enrolled between 2006 and 2010, were monitored over about 11 years. At the time of enrollment, none of them had diabetes, cardiovascular diseases or cancer. In this study researchers specifically examined the effect that moderate drinking may have on the development of new-onset type 2 diabetes among the study participants. The average age of participants was 56 years, slightly more than half of the adults were women, and 95% were white adults.
The negative health risks most commonly associated with alcohol consumption include motor vehicle accidents, violence, risky sexual behavior, high blood pressure, obesity, strokes, breast cancer, liver disease, depression, suicide, accidents, alcohol abuse and alcoholism. These health risks increase with increasing levels of consumption, and for some cancers and other health conditions, the risk increases even with less than one drink daily.
On the other hand, some research has found that moderate drinking seems to be good for the heart and circulatory system, raises HDL cholesterol levels and reduces the risks of blood clots and gallstones, although some of the results are inconclusive or contradictory.
“Clinical trials have also found that moderate drinking may have some health benefits, including on glucose metabolism,” said Dr. Ma. “However, it remains unclear whether glucose metabolism benefits translate into a reduction of type 2 diabetes. In our study, we sought to determine if the association between alcohol intake and risk of type 2 diabetes might differ by the timing of alcohol intake with respect to meals.”
The analysis of data from the 312,400 participants who were regular drinkers indicated that consuming alcohol, most notably wine, with meals is associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. During the 11-year monitoring period, 8,600 of the adults in the study developed type 2 diabetes but those who consumed alcohol with meals had a 14 percent lower risk than those who consumed alcohol without eating food.
This benefit was only seen among people who drank alcohol during meals, although the exact mealtime was not specified in the dataset. In addition, lower risk of type 2 diabetes was most common among participants who drank wine, and not other types of alcoholic beverages. In fact, increased consumption of beer or liquor was associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
“The message from this study is that drinking moderate amounts of wine with meals may prevent type 2 diabetes if you do not have another health condition that may be negatively affected by moderate alcohol consumption, and in consultation with your doctor,” said Dr. Ma.
Despite the apparent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, the American Heart Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that adults who do not drink alcohol should not start. Those who already consume alcohol should do so in moderation – this is defined as one glass of wine (150 ml) or equivalent per day for a woman and two glasses of wine (300 ml) or equivalent per day for a man, according to Ma.
According to Dr. Robert H. Eckel, who was not involved in the study, the relationship between alcohol consumption and new-onset type 2 diabetes remains controversial.
“These data suggest that it’s not the alcohol with meals but other ingredients in wine, perhaps antioxidants, that may be the factor in potentially reducing new-onset type 2 diabetes,” said Dr. Eckel.
“While the type of wine, red versus white, needs to be defined, and validation of these findings and mechanisms of benefit are needed, the results suggest that if you are consuming alcohol with meals, wine may be a better choice.”
The study suffers from the limitation that most of those participating were self-reported white adults and of European descent. It is unknown whether the findings can be generalized to other populations.