Heavy alcohol use increases risk of type 2 diabetes: New research

May 1, 2024

According to new research presented at the American Physiology Summit in Long Beach, California earlier in April, heavy alcohol use can increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in middle-aged adults.

The research presented was led by Dr. Chueh-Lung Hwang of the University of Texas at Arlington’s Cardiovascular Laboratory of Health examined two groups of middle-aged adults between the ages of 50 and 64.

It was found that individuals who engaged in heavy drinking of alcohol had a significantly higher risk of developing alcohol use disorder, as defined by the U.S. Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. The study participants underwent a test that involved answering a questionnaire assessing their drinking frequency and volume, as well as administration of a dried blood spot phosphatidylethanol (PEth) test.

A PEth test is used to measure levels of a biomarker that forms in the blood after consuming alcohol, which can be detected in the blood up to four weeks after drinking alcohol. Heavy drinkers were defined as participants with a PEth score of 20 nanograms per millilitre (ng/mL) or higher, while “nonheavy drinkers” were defined as participants with PEth scores under 20 ng/mL.

Furthermore, the research team analyzed additional blood samples from both volunteer groups. The heavy drinkers had higher fasting glucose levels, which “suggest[s] that heavy alcohol use may have negative effects on glucose regulation in aged populations,” the researchers suggested.

Since heavy alcohol use can negatively impact liver and pancreas function, reduced function of these organs can affect blood glucose levels. Currently, the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines heavy alcohol use as five or more drinks per day or 15 or more drinks per week for men and, for women, more than four drinks per day or eight or more drinks per week. In addition, according to the current definition of the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), heavy drinking is defined as men who reported consuming 5 or more drinks or women who reported consuming 4 or more drinks on 1 occasion at least once a month in the past year.

 “Alcohol drinking that exceeds the recommended limits causes organ damage throughout the body and increases not only the risk of potentially developing Type 2 diabetes, but also other diseases,” said Dr. Hwang in a released statement. “Our team recommends not drinking every day. If [people] do drink alcohol, make sure for men, [it’s] no more than four drinks on any single day … and for women, no more than three drinks on any single day.”