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Two Drinks a Day Keeps Diabetes at Bay

Study finds more benefits to moderate alcohol consumption

TUESDAY, May 14, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- A drink or two a day may help women fend off diabetes.

A new study trumpeting the possibility is small, involving just 53 post-menopausal women, but it is "the first controlled intervention study to demonstrate the effects of alcohol consumption on blood insulin concentrations," says lead author David J. Baer, a U.S. Department of Agriculture research physiologist.

However, that advice is hedged with cautions.

For one thing, no alcohol at all is advised for women during pregnancy and breast-feeding. And the detailed blood tests done as part of the study "confirmed what we suspected. Levels of some hormones associated with a risk of breast cancer increased with consumption of alcohol," Baer says. Researchers at the National Cancer Institute collaborated in the study.

The new trial, appearing in tomorrow's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, was part of a larger effort looking at risk factors for breast cancer and heart disease, he says. The American Heart Association says a drink a day can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Baer and his colleagues at the USDA Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center got 53 women who had gone through menopause to eat a controlled diet for eight weeks. Some had no alcohol at all, some had 15 grams of alcohol a day (about the amount in one drink), and some had 30 grams of alcohol a day.

At the end of the trial, the two-drink-a-day women were found to have insulin levels 20 percent lower than the teetotalers, and their insulin sensitivity was increased by more than 7 percent. Blood insulin levels and insulin sensitivity affect the risk of adult-onset diabetes. Blood triglyceride -- fat -- levels were also lower in the drinking population.

Moderate drinking "may reduce the risk of developing Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease in this population of women," the researchers conclude.

The results "are consistent with work we have done previously with pre-menopausal women," Baer says. "With alcohol, there are some potential benefits and some potential risks."

The risk-benefit ratio changes sharply as consumption goes past the two-drink-a-day level, he says: "There is no evident benefit, and drinking alcohol in excess is detrimental."

The study results fit with the "healthy eating" guidelines of the American Diabetes Association, says Anne Daly, the ADA's president for health care and education.

Most of the association's recommendations are aimed at people with diabetes, and "our position is that they can use alcohol with moderation, two drinks a day or less," Daly says.

The ADA recently started giving advice for people in a newly created category, pre-diabetes, "people who are starting to exhibit elevated levels that are not yet bad enough to call diabetes but are a marker of risk," she says.

The advice allows moderate drinking but frowns on anything more because "if you drink more, you get excess calories with no nutritional value," Daly says, and obesity itself increases the risk of diabetes.

Menopausal women need to watch themselves simply because they are older and "the risk for diabetes increases by decade of age," Daly says.

There is a consensus about the sensible way to eat and drink among health organizations, she says: "Our nutritional recommendations are quite similar to those of the American Heart Association, and they are similar to those of the American Cancer Society."

What To Do: You can learn what the government's nutritional guidelines say about alcohol from the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information. To learn more about alcohol and diabetes, try the Joslin Diabetes Center.

SOURCES: David J. Baer, research physiologist, U. S. Department of Agriculture Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, Beltsville, Md.; Anne Daly, R.D., president, health care and education, American Diabetes Association, Alexandria, Va.; May 15, 2002, Journal of the American Medical Association
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