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Moderate alcohol intake offers no protection against obesity or diabetes, contrary to popular belief

Light or moderate alcohol consumption provides no protective benefits against endocrine conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, according to a comprehensive study recently published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. This research, conducted at McGill University in Québec, goes against some previous notions about potential health benefits of moderate alcohol intake.

The role of alcohol in our health, particularly its association with conditions such as diabetes and obesity, has long been a contentious issue within the medical community. 

Overindulgence in alcohol is universally recognized as detrimental to health. However, the potential (positive or negative) effects of modest alcohol consumption remain the subject of much debate.

Focus of the study

In an attempt to clarify this area of research, Dr. Tianyuan Lu and colleagues delved into the potential correlation between moderate drinking and the incidence of obesity and type 2 diabetes. 

“Some research has indicated that moderate drinkers may be less likely to develop obesity or diabetes compared to non-drinkers and heavy drinkers,” explained Dr. Lu, “However, our study shows that even light-to-moderate alcohol consumption (no more than one standard drink per day) does not protect against obesity and type 2 diabetes in the general population.”

For this comprehensive study, the researchers analyzed alcohol intake data from a cohort of 408,540 participants in the U.K. Biobank. 

What the researchers learned 

The results revealed a sobering truth: those who consumed more than 14 drinks per week demonstrated higher fat mass and an elevated risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Alarmingly, this correlation was even more pronounced in women than in men. 

Furthermore, the research team found no evidence supporting any protective or beneficial health effects associated with moderate drinking, defined in this study as seven or fewer drinks per week.

In response to the findings, Dr. Lu expressed the hope that the research will help people understand the risks associated with drinking alcohol, and that it will “inform future public health guidelines and recommendations related to alcohol use.”

“We want our work to encourage the general population to choose alternative healthier behaviors over drinking,” said Dr. Lu.

The study, a major undertaking in the field of endocrinology and public health, was funded by multiple organizations, including the Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Santé, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research.

Potential benefits of moderate alcohol intake

Although this is a controversial and complex topic, some research has suggested potential benefits associated with moderate alcohol consumption. Importantly, these potential benefits must be weighed against the substantial risks and potential harms of alcohol consumption, which can include dependence, liver disease, cardiovascular disease, and various cancers.

Some of the potential benefits of moderate alcohol consumption include:

Heart health

Moderate drinking, particularly of red wine, has been linked with a lower risk of heart disease in some studies. This is potentially due to the presence of alcohol and antioxidants such as resveratrol, which may help prevent heart disease by increasing levels of ‘good’ cholesterol and protecting against artery damage.


Some studies have suggested a correlation between moderate alcohol consumption and increased longevity. However, it’s not clear if the alcohol itself is responsible, or if this correlation is due to other factors.

Possible reduced risk of stroke

Some studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption might be linked with a lower risk of ischemic stroke.

However, it’s crucial to note that these potential benefits are often dependent on specific factors and are not universally applicable. For example, moderate alcohol consumption is often defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. Moreover, the pattern of drinking (regular moderate intake vs. binge drinking) also matters.

Preventing diabetes 

There are numerous ways to help prevent or manage diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes, which is often linked to lifestyle factors. Here are some strategies:

Maintain a healthy weight

Overweight and obesity increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Losing even a small amount of weight if you’re overweight – and keeping it off – can help prevent or manage the disease.

Regular physical activity

Exercise increases your body’s insulin sensitivity. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week.

Healthy eating

A diet rich in whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables can help prevent diabetes. Limit your intake of processed foods, sugary drinks, and high-fat foods.

Quit smoking

Smoking is known to increase the risk of various health problems, including type 2 diabetes.

Moderate alcohol consumption

Excessive alcohol intake can lead to weight gain and may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. If you choose to drink, do so in moderation.

Regular check-ups

Regular check-ups can help to detect any early signs of diabetes and prevent it from developing into a more severe condition. People with prediabetes can often prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes through lifestyle modifications.

Manage stress

High levels of stress can impact blood sugar levels and lead to poor dietary choices. Find healthy ways to cope with stress, such as meditation, yoga, or other relaxation techniques.

Adequate sleep

Poor sleep or irregular sleep patterns can increase the risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

Remember that while these strategies can reduce the risk, they can’t guarantee prevention. Genetic factors and age also play a role in the development of diabetes. 


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