My friend and colleague Richard (Dick) Loughery suffered from Type I diabetes much of his life. And he firmly believed that having an alcoholic drink with lunch and with dinner was the best treatment for his diabetic peripheral neuropathy. And according to a new study, he was absolutely right!
Dick was the President of the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. for many years before Ronald Regan tapped him for a position in health policy. He later joined Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and me in the effort to create a national consumer health education program. So he knew quite a bit about healthy living. Really, it’s a wonder it took researchers so long to “prove” something Dick knew as a patient years ago.
You see, men and women with Type I or II diabetes frequently experience damage to their small and large blood vessels. And this damage can lead to problems in the brain, eyes, kidneys, and heart.
In diabetics, a particular type of hardening of the smaller blood vessels disrupts blood flow to the organs. In the eyes, it is known as diabetic retinopathy. And it damages the retina at the back of eyeballs. In the kidney, it is known as glomerulopathy (named Kammelsteil-Wilson Disease) or diabetic nephropathy. This condition destroys the kidney cells in the glomeruli that filter the blood.
Likewise, diabetes can restrict blood flow through the body’s distal capillaries. These capillaries supply your nerve endings. So lack of blood flow to these nerve endings can lead to peripheral neuropathy in the hands and feet, with numbness and pain.
Unfortunately, we learned decades ago that most drugs that control blood sugar do not prevent the circulatory complications and organ diseases associated with diabetes. In fact, Metformin is the only drug that both controls blood sugar and prevents these complications.
But, as it turns out, alcohol may work too!
In fact, this new study followed 11,140 patients with diabetes for about five years. The patients came from 215 sites in 20 different countries. They were at least 55 years old at enrollment and had been diagnosed with Type II diabetes at age 30 or older. Plus, they had at least one risk factor for vascular disease.
At the study’s outset, researchers grouped patients as nondrinkers, moderate drinkers, or heavy drinkers based on self-reported levels. Moderate male drinkers consumed 21 or fewer drinks per week. Moderate women drinkers consumed 14 or fewer drinks per week. (They defined one drink as half a pint of beer, 125 mL of wine, or 25 mL of spirits.)
The researchers examined reported alcohol consumption again at 24 months and final study visits.
During the follow-up period, 10 percent of patients experienced a major cardiovascular event, such as death from cardiovascular disease, nonfatal stroke, or nonfatal heart attack. Plus, 10 percent of patients experienced a microvascular complication, such as a new or worsening kidney disease or diabetic eye disease.
The researchers found that patients who reported moderate alcohol consumption had fewer cardiovascular events and microvascular complications, compared to non-drinkers. Plus, they had lower all-cause mortality.
Wine drinkers experienced the biggest boost. In fact, wine drinkers had a 22 percent lower risk for cardiovascular events and a 23 percent reduced risk for all-cause mortality compared to nondrinkers.
Researchers believe moderate alcohol intake improves these complications among Type II diabetics because it helps increase HDL cholesterol, reduces inflammation, and increases insulin sensitivity.
This study is just another reason to enjoy a glass or two of wine with dinner. Especially if you have Type II diabetes. I’ll tell you more about the benefits of moderate wine consumption next week.
1. “The Relationship Between Alcohol Consumption and Vascular Complications and Mortality in Individuals With Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus,” Diabetes Care Published online before print February 27, 2014