Lower heart attack risk for wine-drinking diabetics

People with type 2 diabetes who drink wine have a dramatically lower risk of heart attacks and death, Australian researchers have found in a huge global study.

Senior author Associate Professor Graham Hillis, of The George Institute for Global Health and The University of Sydney, said: “This study provides evidence that people with type 2 diabetes who drink wine in moderation have a lower risk of heart attack compared to those who do not drink alcohol at all”.

He cautioned, however, that this study does not establish that drinking alcohol lowers the risk of heart attack, just that those who drink alcohol have a lower risk. 

This study is important because about 956,000 Australians have type 2 diabetes. The incidence of heart attacks in these patients has increased to the point that about two in every three patients with the condition will die due to cardiovascular disease.

Compared to abstainers, any alcohol use was associated with a 17 per cent lower risk of cardiovascular events, a 15 per cent lower risk of microvascular complications, and a 13 per cent lower risk of death from all causes.

When alcohol use was evaluated by type of beverage, the figures were even more striking. Those who said they mainly drank wine had a 22 per cent lower risk of heart attacks, and a 23 per cent lower risk of death from any cause compared to abstainers.

Heavy drinking cancelled out any benefits. “This study finds no grounds to discourage mild to moderate alcohol consumption, at least in terms of its effects on heart attack risk,” said Associate Professor Hillis.

He warned that potential benefits of drinking wine should be weighed against the potential detrimental effects of alcohol, such as increased risk of hypoglycemia, liver-related complications and increased incidence of certain cancers.

Australian Diabetes Council Accredited Practising Dietitian Lamees Kaoutarani said that the results of the study were interesting, and she looked forward to seeing further research into the findings.

Mrs Kaoutarani said Australian Diabetes Council supports moderate alcohol consumption of up to two standard drinks per day, but cautioned against interpreting the data to believe this is the best strategy to reduce cardiovascular risk.

“Alcohol is high in kilojoules and can lead to weight gain, high triglyceride levels and increased risks of complications related to diabetes,” Mrs Kaoutarani said.

Mrs Kaoutarani suggested that people with diabetes continue to reduce cardiovascular risk through a combination of healthy eating, regular physical activity and appropriate diabetes management.

“There are many nutritious foods that people with diabetes can include as part of a healthy diet to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, such as mono- and poly-unsaturated fats as well as antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables herbs, grains and tea.

The study, the largest to look at the issue in the world, surveyed 11,140 patients aged over 50 in 20 countries, who had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes after the age of 30. It was published in the international medical journal Diabetes Care, and was led by researchers from The George Institute.

It backs up previous studies on the wider population that show red wine is associated with the reduction of heart attack risk for everyone.

Diabetes is the world’s fastest-growing chronic disease. In 2013, 382 million people had diabetes in 2013; a figure expected to almost double to 592 million by 2031. About 956,000 Australians have type 2 diabetes, which is diagnosed in up to 90 per cent of all diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, which is caused by a combination of genetic and environment factors, including obesity, lack of activity, and poor diet.

The study used 11,140 patients in 20 countries, including: Asia (China, India, Malaysia and the Philippines), Eastern Europe (the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Slovakia) and established market economies (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, New Zealand and the United Kingdom).

Contributing authors also came from:

  • The School of public Health and Preventative Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
  • John Hopkins University Baltimore, US
  • Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Milano-Biocca, Monza, Italy
  • Imperial College and St Mary’s Hospital, London, United Kingdom
  • Institute of Cardiovascular Science, University College, London, United Kingdom
  • University of Melbourne and Royal Melbourne Hospital, Melbourne, Australia