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Wednesday, 15 May, 2002, 14:16 GMT 15:16 UK
Alcohol may prevent diabetes
One way to reduce the risk of diabetes?
Older women may be able to ward off the threat of developing diabetes by having a couple of alcoholic drinks each day.

Researchers believe that any type of alcohol may work.

They found that women on a controlled diet who were given specially prepared alcoholic drinks had better control of their insulin levels than women given similar drinks which did not contain alcohol.

Realistically, it is unlikely that alcohol consumption alone will prevent Type 2 diabetes

Mairi Benson
The hormone insulin controls blood sugar levels. It is in short supply in people with diabetes.

The drinks were made with orange juice and ethanol, a pure kind of alcohol.

The researchers stressed that the finding needed to be tested further.

The tests on 63 healthy women were carried out by a team from the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, part of the US Department of Agriculture.

Widespread problem

In the UK there are around 1.4 million people with diabetes, 90% of whom have Type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is caused when the body either cannot produce enough insulin or the insulin it produces cannot be used properly by the body to control blood glucose levels.

Mairi Benson, information science manager at Diabetes UK, said: "Alcohol is known to cause hypos (low blood glucose levels) in people with diabetes, therefore, the fact that this study shows low insulin levels is not necessarily surprising as the body would have less of a need to produce insulin in response to blood glucose levels.

"The study was of a very small group of women and would need to be broadened to test its applicability to the general population.

"Also, the study used pure alcohol and it would be useful to see the effects of everyday alcoholic drinks - which may contain additives, including sugar, that could confound the effects seen with pure alcohol in this study."

Ms Benson said it would also be interesting to see whether the same results were achieved in tests on women who were specifically at increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.

"Realistically, it is unlikely that alcohol consumption alone will prevent Type 2 diabetes - there is, after all, a strong genetic element involved in its onset.

"Lifestyle factors such as moderate exercise and healthy diets are also major factors."

Moderate drinking can reduce the risk of heart disease, but drinking can raise a woman's risk of breast and colon cancer.

The research is published in the journal of the American Medical Association.

A second study in the same journal found the less a woman weighed when she was born, the higher her risk for pregnancy-related diabetes when she herself grows up and becomes pregnant.

See also:

29 Apr 02 | Health
Diabetic legacy from the womb
09 Feb 99 | Medical notes
13 May 02 | Health
Diabetes results raise cure hopes
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