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Moderate Drinking May Cut Women's Risk of Diabetes

Tue May 14, 2002

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may help prevent healthy postmenopausal women from developing diabetes as well as heart disease, new research suggests.

According to the report, women who consumed one to two drinks a day were better able to respond to insulin, a hormone that helps cells use sugar for energy. These women also had lower levels of insulin in their blood. High blood levels of insulin--as well as decreased insulin sensitivity--are risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

The findings may be useful for postmenopausal women, who are at risk of developing heart disease, elevated insulin and decreased insulin sensitivity, according to Dr. Michael J. Davies from the US Department of Agriculture in Beltsville, Maryland, and colleagues.

"We think these data are very important because they help define some of the health risks and benefits of moderate alcohol consumption," said study co-author Dr. David J. Baer, who presented the findings Tuesday at a press conference in Washington, DC.

In the study, 51 healthy postmenopausal women rotated among three 8-week treatment periods in which they consumed either no alcohol, one drink a day or two drinks daily, in addition to a diet to maintain their body weight. The results of the study are published in the May 15th issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Blood samples drawn from the women revealed that insulin levels were nearly 20% lower after consuming two drinks compared with consuming no alcohol. Levels of triglycerides, a type of fat associated with increased risk of heart disease, were about 10% lower in the two-drink-a-day group, compared with the no-alcohol group.

"Individuals with higher levels of triglycerides actually had a greater response to the alcohol, a greater decrease in triglycerides, compared to individuals who came in with lower levels of triglycerides," Baer noted.

Insulin sensitivity rose by roughly 7% after two drinks, while blood glucose remained constant across treatment groups. There were no differences in response seen between normal-weight, overweight or obese individuals.

The researchers attribute the findings to the effects of alcohol but note that other compounds in red wine may provide additional protection.

Whatever the beneficial component in alcohol may be, the findings are consistent with previous reports that have observed improved insulin sensitivity among nondiabetic adults who drink moderately. Until now, there have been no controlled studies on the relationship between alcohol consumption, insulin sensitivity and blood sugar, the authors note.

SOURCE: The Journal of the American Medical Association 2002;287:2559-