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A new study suggests moderate alcohol consumption is beneficial, so what does "moderate" mean?

Jillian Kramer
July 28, 2017

New research claims might give you another reason to head to happy hour. Scientists say that indulging in an alcoholic beverage up to four times each week could significantly lower your risk of diabetes.

A team of researchers analyzed the drinking habits of some 70,000 Danish adults over the course of about five years. In that time, 859 men and 887 women were diagnosed with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Interestingly, those people drank less often than the participants who experienced the least risk of developing the disease. In fact, the scientists say, men with the lowest diabetes risk drank an average of 14 units of alcohol a week, while women in the same category indulged in nine units in that same amount of time. That led scientists to conclude "consumption of alcohol on three to four days weekly was associated with significantly lower [diabetes] risk in men and women" compared to those who drink one or fewer days a week.

Just how much can you lower your diabetes risk? Moderate but regular drinking could reduce a man's risk by 27 percent and a woman's risk by 32 percent.

According to the American Heart Association, drinking in moderation means no more than two units of alcohol per day for men, and no more than one unit per day for women. A unit of alcohol is about eight milliliters of pure alcohol—which means that each alcoholic beverage you're sipping on has a different "unit" of its own measurement. For example, if you pick up a bottle of wine with a 13 percent ABV, that means that bottle is 13 percent pure alcohol, and so, a "unit" of that particular wine would be 76 milliliters or about 2.5 ounces. For beer with a four percent ABV, a unit is about 250 milliliters or 8.5 ounces. That's why units are more important to pay attention to than glasses—after all, one "glass" of wine could have up to three units of alcohol in it. If you're ever confused, here is a handy calculator to help you figure out just how many units of alcohol you're kicking back. 

And what you're drinking matters as well, the scientists in the diabetes study also found. Wine has the biggest benefit when it comes to reducing diabetes risk. For both men and women, the scientists say it can reduce risk by more than 25 percent. Beer is second best, and can reduce diabetes risk by up to 21 percent. But swap your wine or beer for a clear alcoholic beverage, and you could experience opposite results: the scientists say that clear spirits can actually increase a woman's risk by about 83 percent.

Of course, the idea that alcohol can reduce diabetes risk flies in the face of previous research that shows excessive drinking can increase your risk of harmful diseases, such as breast cancer in women and heart and liver disease for both genders. So be sure to weigh the risk and reward next time you reach for a fourth drink this week.