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Some alcohol protects against diabetes

29th November 2011

Eating a diet high in simple sugars raises a woman's diabetes risk, but drinking moderate amounts of alcohol seems to act as a counterbalance, according to US research.

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The researchers came to their conclusion after studying data on over 80,000 women, who were followed for 26 years and asked about their diet every four years.

Lead researcher Frank Hu, who studies nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health in Massachusetts, said that eating a diet high in carbohydrates without drinking alcohol increased people's diabetes risk by up to 30%.

The researchers believe that the reason for the statistical connection between diabetes protection and alcohol use might have something to do with the effects of insulin.

If alcohol affects the rate at which insulin is released after meals, then it may blunt any potential spike in blood sugar.

While other studies have linked drinking alcohol with lower diabetes risk in general, the recent study focused specifically on the risk conferred by eating high-glycaemic (high GI) diets.

Diabetes can lead to serious health problems, such as heart disease and stroke.

Some diabetics may also need their limbs amputated, due to diabetic wounds, which can linger for years without forming new skin.

In the long-term study, 6,950 women became diabetic after 26 years of being free of the illness.

After examining their diets and levels of alcohol consumption, the researchers were able to conclude that although eating a lot of refined carbohydrates such as bread, mashed potatoes, and sugary drinks, as well as eating a lot of meat, made people more likely to get diabetes, people who also drank a few units of alcohol every week were less likely to develop the condition.

A very small amount of the study subjects drank several ounces of alcohol per day, but those people did not seem to have a lower diabetes risk.

Jill Kanaley, who studies type 2 diabetes at the University of Missouri, but was not involved in the study, said that she had never noticed any medical literature relating alcohol intake to reduced diabetes risk.

She said that, although the finding surprised her, there were a number of factors that could have been taken into account, such as whether or not the alcohol had been drunk at mealtimes.

Hu said that he and his colleagues did not advocate drinking alcohol in order to prevent diabetes, but rather a low GI diet and a moderate approach to drinking.

 

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