Consuming Small Amounts of Alcohol May Ward Off Diabetic Retinopathy, Study Suggests

Alcohol certainly has significant downsides, but it’s also been shown to have a protective effect against cardiovascular disease and diabetes mellitus when consumed in moderation. And now new research has shown it may also be able to prevent diabetes-related complications such as diabetic retinopathy, a condition involving vision issues and potential blindness.

Researchers theorized that because small amounts of alcohol can be helpful in preventing type 2 diabetes, alcohol consumption might also helo stave off diabetic retinopathy, which is expected to become more prevalent in the coming years.

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The study involved 656 participants with diabetes mellitus and their records from the Singaporean Eye Study. Their mean age was 58.8, and 54.4 percent of them were male. Each participant had gradable retinal photographs taken in 2007-2009 as a baseline and then again for a follow-up in 2013-2015. Their results were compared, bearing their reported alcohol intake in mind.

Infrequent alcohol consumption was defined as two days of alcohol consumption per week. Frequent alcohol consumption was defined as more than two days of alcohol consumption per week.

From baseline to follow-up, 16 percent of participants developed diabetic retinopathy, while 30.8 percent experienced a progression of their already existing retinopathy. 12.7 percent of the group who developed retinopathy drank alcohol, while 19.1 percent of the progression group drank alcohol.

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The researchers conducted multivariable analyses and learned that participants who consumed alcohol had a two-thirds reduction in their risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. There was no apparent association between alcohol consumption and retinopathy progression.

The researchers believe that, because cardiovascular disease is a risk factor for diabetic retinopathy, it may actually be the decreased risk of cardiovascular complications that in turn leads to a reduced risk of retinopathy in diabetic people who drink alcohol.

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Alcohol also has a high polyphenolic content, so it may decrease inflammation and oxidative stress that could contribute to the development of retinopathy. And alcohol promotes vasorelaxation, which results in a greater flow of blood to the retinas, protecting them from the decreased blood flow associated with diabetic retinopathy.

Alcohol is never recommended in high quantities, but this study points to the possibility that consuming alcohol twice or less per week may actually help ward off diabetic retinopathy if you don’t already have it. While further studies are needed, it may not be a bad idea to talk to your doctor about your alcohol consumption and come up with a plan that’s right for you and your body so you can get all of the protective effects possible.

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