Expert Commentary

Alcohol consumption and risk of male type 2 diabetes

2010 study by the Harvard School of Public Health in the Diabetes Journal on the relationship between men's alcohol consumption and rates of diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes remains one of the fastest-growing conditions in the United States. A number of studies have found connections between moderate alcohol consumption and reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes, compared with abstention or excessive consumption. However, most of these studies only measured alcohol consumption at one point in time and then assumed relatively stable consumption rates.

A 2010 study published in the Diabetes Journal, “Changes in Alcohol Consumption and Subsequent Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Men,” examined the connection between fluctuation in alcohol consumption levels over time and subsequent risk of Type 2 diabetes. Beginning in 1990, the study began tracking the alcohol consumption of more than 38,000 men who did not initially have diabetes. During the 20-year study — which asked subjects to report their consumption every four years — 1,905 men were diagnosed with diabetes at some point. The study group was comprised of middle-aged American health professionals.

The study’s key findings include:

  • For nondrinkers and those initially consuming a drink or less per day — the equivalent of 15 or fewer grams of alcohol —  an increase of alcohol by approximately half a glass a day over a four-year period was associated with lowered diabetes risk.
  • Men already consuming more than one drink a day did not lower their risk by increasing alcohol consumption.
  • Light drinkers who initially consumed less than a third of a drink a day, and who then increased to moderate levels (two drinks or fewer a day), had a lower diabetes risk than light drinkers whose consumption remained stable over the same four-year period.

The study suggests that an increase in alcohol consumption for non-drinkers or light drinkers is associated with diminished risk for Type 2 diabetes. The researchers cautioned that the study’s findings did not necessarily indicate causality, nor could they be generalized. “These results … are limited to a single outcome of diabetes,” a researcher stated, and emphasized that the impacts of alcohol on other aspects of health should be taken into consideration.

Tags: medicine

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