People who enjoy one beer or glass of wine several days a week may be less likely to develop diabetes than drinkers who tend to have all their cocktails on a Saturday night, a Danish study suggests.
When researchers looked at people who drank they same total amount of alcohol, they found that men who spread those drinks over three to four days of the week were 27 per cent less likely to develop diabetes than guys who downed all their shots and beers in one sitting.
Women, meanwhile, had 32 per cent lower odds of diabetes when they spread their cocktails over several days instead of a single happy hour.
But this is hardly a prescription to drink every day, said senior study author Janne Tolstrup of the University of Southern Denmark.
"I wouldn't advise a non-drinker to start drinking for their health," Tolstrup said by email.
"Generally, people should stick to the guidelines already there," which in most countries are a maximum of 7 drinks per week for women and 14 for men, Tolstrup added.
Other studies looking at total alcohol consumption have linked light to moderate drinking with a lower risk of diabetes than abstinence, researchers note in Diabetologia. The odds of diabetes for binge drinkers, meanwhile, had been similar to or greater than for teetotalers, previous research has found.
For the current study, researchers wanted to see how much the total amount of alcohol consumed over a week might help explain the differing pictures of diabetes risk found in earlier research.
They examined survey data from 70,551 men and women who didn't have diabetes at the start of the study. Half the participants stayed in the study for five years or more.
During the study, 859 men and 887 women developed diabetes.
Like other studies of diabetes and drinking, the current analysis found the lowest risk for people who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol.
Compared to non-drinkers, men who had 14 drinks a week were 43 per cent less likely to develop diabetes and women who had nine weekly drinks were 58 per cent less likely to develop diabetes.
The study didn't include many people who reported binge drinking, and it didn't find clear evidence to show whether excessive alcohol consumption might be good or bad from the standpoint of diabetes risk.
What people drank did appear to matter, however.
Participants who had at least seven glasses of wine a week were 25 to 30 per cent less likely to develop diabetes than people who had no more than a single weekly glass.
Beer, however, only appeared to help men. Consuming one to six beers a week was associated with a 21 per cent lower risk of diabetes than drinking less than one beer a week.
Spirits, meanwhile, didn't appear to help at all and were associated with problems for women. When women had seven or more drinks with spirits each week, they were 83 per cent more likely to develop diabetes than women who had less than one cocktail or shot of booze a week.
The study wasn't a controlled experiment designed to prove if or how alcohol consumption influences the odds of developing diabetes.
Other limitations include the reliance on participants to accurately recall and report on their drinking habits, as well as the possibility that other lifestyle factors or individual characteristics other than drinking habits might explain why some people got diabetes.
"The take-home message is to be very sceptical of the idea that frequent alcohol protects against developing diabetes," said Tim Stockwell, director of the Center for Addictions Research of British Columbia and a professor at the University of Victoria in Victoria, Canada.
"There are a number of health risks associated with even moderate alcohol use including multiple cancers of the digestive system as well as breast cancer and possibly prostate cancer," Stockwell, who wasn't involved in the study, said by email. "People should use alcohol sparingly if they drink and do so for pleasure and not with the idea that it will have medicinal benefits."