This article appeared in the West & Mid Kerry News magazine recently. I had requests to put it in our news blog! Although a little tongue in cheek, there is plenty to think about how studies and research is shared in the public domain! Enjoy, Irene
As politicians and other newsmakers take time off for the Summer, filling up news columns with sensational stories becomes a bit of a task. The media often resort to food and beverage stories to fill some of the gaps left by our wandering celebrities. One news story that grabbed many headlines last week was that of a Danish study which reported that drinking alcohol three to four times a week reduces the risk of diabetes in both men and women. Researchers concluded that “going for a drink or consuming alcohol at home most days was associated with a reduced risk of 27 per cent in men and 32 percent in women, compared with abstaining”. Don’t reach for the bottle just yet as there are a few little factors we need to consider before we write the party invites!
This is not the first time that researchers looked at the link of moderate consumption of alcohol and diabetes risk, as similar studies can be found dating back to 1995. However, with modern techniques for the collection of statistics and the large number of respondents in this study, over 70,000 participants, these results are convincing. Interestingly, many of the other studies had similar conclusions. It appears that alcohol when taken in moderation increases the efficiency of insulin at getting glucose inside cells. However, a closer look at the studies reveal that beer and wine drinkers enjoy this positive effect whereas gin and spirit drinkers have an 80 percent increase in developing diabetes. Wine has the most benefits, more likely to do with a high polyphenol content found in red wine. Polyphenols are antioxidants found in certain plant-based foods which protect and repair cells from free radical damage. Another factor to consider is that both wine and beer are typically consumed with food in the countries in which the studies were conducted and this too would have a great impact on the end results.
In Denmark, less than 10 percent of the population are overweight. Compare this to the Irish population with 30 percent either overweight or obese. If the same study was carried out in Ireland, it is doubtful that the results would be similar. In Ireland, nine out of every ten Type 2 Diabetes patients are overweight or obese and world-wide studies unanimously conclude that maintaining a healthy weight is the greatest way to reduce your risk of developing diabetes. Losing 7 to 10 percent of your current weight can cut your chance of developing diabetes in half according to a Harvard study on diabetes prevention. The Danes also enjoy a healthier lifestyle than us with more families spending longer hours outdoors in nature every week compared to us. They have shorter working weeks, greater benefits from a resourceful tax regime and have the number one Health Care system in the world! The Danish conclusion may not translate as well in Ireland as those extra few drinks could be the breaking of a stressed out, ill-fed, fat, sedentary body already on the brink of diabetes plus many of the other lifestyle-related illnesses.
The good news is that there are less risky ways to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. Losing weight and getting more active are joint firsts on the list. Working your muscles more often and making them work harder improves their ability to use insulin and absorb glucose, reducing the stress on the insulin-making cells. No need for long, sweaty workouts, as most studies conclude that 30 minutes of brisk walking everday can cut your risk by 30%. Ditch any sugary drinks including fruit juices and drink more water, herbal teas, black and green tea. A daily 330ml serving of fizzy drinks increases risk of developing diabetes by 25 percent! Bump up the plant-power in your diet from wholegrains, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds to at least 80 percent of your total diet. Plant-based foods offer the greatest protection from every degenerative chronic disease including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, most cancers, autoimmune disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Swapping red meat and processed meat for healthier protein foods such as nuts, wholegrains, legumes, organic poultry and fresh fish lowered diabetes risk by up to 35% according to a study printed in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009. There are thousands of studies that point to a healthy lifestyle and honest, wholesome food to have the most overall health benefits and protection against all chronic diseases in the Western world.
Research is needed for ongoing health improvements but careful interpretation is vital for results to have an effective impact on our health status. Unfortunately, many studies are biased, misrepresented or funded by the organization that most benefits from the results. Much of the research that makes for sensational headlines can be taken with a pinch of salt, which may or may not increase your risk of high blood pressure!
Researched and written by Irene Ní Fhlannúra, Nutritional Therapist at Ré Nua Natural Health Clinic 066 9151360