Drinking Wine Prevents Diabetes? Not Exactly

Double Portrait with a Glass of WineA glass of wine is a fine complement to a good meal, but could it also be a tool for preventing type 2 diabetes? A sampling of recent headlines prompted by the American Heart Association might certainly lead you to think so. Like this one from Martha Stewart Living:

Science Says Drinking a Glass of Wine with Dinner Could Help Combat Diabetes

But alas, this is just one more case study in a long tradition of overstating the significance of a correlation. In this study from the AHA, researchers dug into UK Biobank data to find a 14 percent lower rate of type 2 diabetes in people who drank alcohol with meals compared to those who drank their alcohol separate from their meals. Further analysis told the researchers that wine – not beer or spirits – explained all of the relationship.

What about no alcohol? Not part of this study.

A Long List of Caveats

The list of caveats for this study is long. The most important thing is to note the comparison. Drinking with a meal versus drinking without a meal. So you might say that the intervention in this study was the meal, not the wine.

The other obvious observation is that this is a study of correlation – not cause and effect. The number of other variables that come along with pairing wine and a meal are numerous to say the least. In the press release from AHA, professor Robert Eckel makes it clear that the relationship between alcohol consumption and the onset of type 2 diabetes is quite controversial.

Other limitations of this study include the fact that data on alcohol consumption is based on self-reports, not actual observations. Also, the population in the study was mostly White persons from European descent. Furthermore, these are data presented at the AHA Epi|Lifestyle meeting – they don’t come from a peer-reviewed publication.

Finally it’s worth noting that alcohol clearly has negative health effects apart from diabetes risk, even with relatively moderate consumption patterns.


Let’s remember, people have been enjoying wine with meals for thousands of years. In moderation, it is a source of pleasure for many people. And other research suggests that wine may present less risk for type 2 diabetes than beer or spirits. But in any case, the potential benefit is not large.

Publicity around studies like this tends to serve one purpose above all others – rationalization. In recent years, we’ve learned that people can rationalize just about anything, so we don’t really need this. “Science says” is a lame reason for enjoying a glass of wine with a meal. If it brings pleasure in moderation, that’s the best reason.

Diabetes prevention? Not compelling. Not even close.

Click here for the study abstract and here for the press release. For further reporting, click here and here.

Double Portrait with a Glass of Wine, painting by Marc Chagall / WikiArt

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March 7, 2022

One Response to “Drinking Wine Prevents Diabetes? Not Exactly”

  1. March 08, 2022 at 6:44 pm, John Dixon said:

    Ted, I remember your recent warning that perhaps those promoting diet and exercise as the panacea for achieving weight loss may have been exhibiting bias. The same simplistic thinking involves alcohol intake and health. It’s always bad.

    There is a vast evidence base that under some circumstances alcohol can be beneficial for health. However, like the obesity paradox, our beliefs and public health bias indicate more weight is always harmful.
    The evidence regarding benefit is very much in the area of CV health and Type 2 diabetes. The Bradford Hill Criteria epidemiological causation is alive and well even in the 21 century.

    We got interested in this topic years ago when we found perplexing findings in our severely obese patients following LAGB surgery.

    Keeping an open mind is an exercise we should practice daily. Looking at findings that “must be wrong” is exciting, not disappointing.

    Keep up your amazing work.. Please!