Diabetics Can Also Reap the Benefits of Moderate Drinking
July 31, 2000 -- Doctors have known for some time that a drink (or two) a day may keep heart disease away -- at least for healthy adults. However, doctors were in the dark about alcohol's effects on diabetics. Now, back-to-back studies of nurses and physicians suggest that the same benefit can be found among diabetics who are light to moderate drinkers.
This is an important finding, say experts, because diabetics have a very high risk for heart disease and death from heart attacks. The new findings are reported in the Aug. 1 issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.
But Caren G. Solomon, MD, MPH, lead author of one of the studies, tells WebMD that she wants to make it very clear that "this is not an excuse to go out and party." Solomon says the roughly 5,100 diabetic women she studied are women who "don't drink a lot." Solomon looked specifically at type 2 diabetes, which usually occurs later in life in people who are overweight.
She says, too, that the findings are based only on observation: "I wouldn't routinely advise alcohol consumption as a way to reduce [heart disease] risk, but this does suggest that alcohol is not absolutely taboo for diabetic patients." Solomon, who is an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, says the women were all diagnosed with diabetes at age 30 or older and were then followed from 1980 through 1994.
Solomon, who is also associate director of women's health research at Brigham and Women's Hospital, writes that light to moderate alcohol consumption reduced the risk of heart disease by about half.
Umed A. Ajani, MBBS, MPH, lead author of the other study, tells WebMD that many physicians have worried that alcohol may affect levels of sugar in the blood of diabetics. He says, however, that findings suggest that moderate drinking, as defined by the American Diabetes Association (ADA), during meals "appears to offer a benefit." The ADA defines moderate drinking as 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or one and a half ounces of distilled liquor, such as scotch or vodka.
Ajani says that many heart experts think alcohol protects the heart by increasing the level of HDL, the so-called "good" cholesterol. Many diabetics have problems with cholesterol levels, he adds. Ajani says that among the nearly 2,800 physicians with diabetes who participated in the study, those who reported moderate alcohol consumption had a 40% decreased risk of death from heart disease compared to those who didn't drink.
William Kannel, professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, tells WebMD, "Most of the measures recommended for the general population seem to provide an even greater benefit in the diabetic." He says, for example, that controlling high blood pressure in diabetics results in a "an even greater risk reduction than in the nondiabetic."