Drinking alcohol in moderation is linked to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes in women with a history of gestational diabetes, according to a new study published in the journal JAMA Network Open.
Women who develop gestational diabetes — diabetes that develops during pregnancy, and often resolves once the pregnancy is over — are at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes is usually treated with injected insulin, although recent research suggests that the oral type 2 drug metformin may be an alternative treatment that offers better blood glucose control and improved pregnancy-related outcomes. But although the link between gestational diabetes and later type 2 diabetes is well established, it hasn’t been as clear whether any behavioral factors — beyond behaviors that affect risk factors for type 2, such as body weight — can reduce the risk of type 2 in women with a history of gestational diabetes.
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Alcohol and risk for type 2 in women with a history of gestational diabetes
For the latest study, researchers were interested in exploring a potential link between drinking alcohol and the risk for type 2 diabetes in women with a history of gestational diabetes. They looked at data from 4,740 women with a history of gestational diabetes who were followed between January 1991 and December 2017 as part of a larger study called the Diabetes & Women’s Health Study. As part of the study, participants completed surveys every four years about their dietary patterns, including alcohol intake. At the start of the study, the average age of participants was 38.2, and participants were followed for a median of 24 years. During this follow-up period, 897 participants developed type 2 diabetes.
After adjusting for “major dietary and lifestyle factors” that the participants reported, the researchers found that compared with women who consumed no alcohol at all, those who consumed an average of 5.0 to 14.9 grams per day — about half a drink to one drink daily — were 55% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. There was no significant link between consuming 0 to 4.9 grams of alcohol, or 15.0 grams of alcohol or more, each day and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. After further adjusting for body-mass index (BMI, a measure of body weight that takes height into account), the researchers found that women who consumed 5.0 to 14.9 grams of alcohol daily were 41% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, and there was still no significant link seen among women who drank less or more alcohol than this compared with those who drank no alcohol.
“These findings should be interpreted in the context of other known risks and benefits of alcohol consumption when considering clinical recommendations for individual women with a history of gestational diabetes,” the researchers wrote. For example, in some people, drinking alcohol leads to weight gain or abnormal blood lipid (cholesterol and triglyceride) levels, which may carry separate health risks. But this study suggests that in women with a history of gestational diabetes who don’t have any other health-based reasons not to drink alcohol, there’s no reason to restrict regular moderate alcohol consumption.