Binge drinking ‘causes diabetes in women - but not men’

Young women who binge drink dramatically increase their risk of developing diabetes as they get older
Young women who binge drink dramatically increase their risk of developing diabetes as they get older
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Young women who binge drink dramatically increase their risk of developing diabetes as they get older, warns new research.

Bingeing on alcohol from the age of 16 was linked to higher sugar levels in their blood - which can lead to the life-threatening condition.

But the same link was not found in men - and the gender difference has mystified scientists.

In the first study of its kind almost 900 people were followed over 27 years - from adolescence - to assess drinking in relation to blood glucose.

The findings are particularly alarming as more girls and young women now admit to binge drinking than men - despite a drop in overall rates of alcohol consumption in the UK, according to latest government figures.

Lead author Dr Karina Nygren, of Umea University in Sweden, said: "Our findings show high alcohol consumption from ages 16 to 43 is associated with higher blood glucose levels in women but not in men.

"Because higher blood glucose is a risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes, our data suggest informing people about the risk of high alcohol consumption at a young age could have positive health impacts further down the line."

Total alcohol consumption and binge drinking throughout the period was strongly associated with higher blood glucose levels among female participants.

This was irrespective of BMI (body mass index), high blood pressure and smoking when they reached middle age.

The study, published in the journal BMC Public Health, found only BMI and high blood pressure was linked with increased blood glucose levels in men.

But despite alcohol just being a factor in blood sugar in women, men still had higher glucose levels - and consumed nearly three times as much.

Previous studies have shown alcohol can increase insulin resistance in humans - which in turn leads to accumulation of glucose in the blood.

Research in rats has also shown binge drinking alters the animal’s metabolism in a way that affects production of insulin.

Dr Nygren said: "Although there are some biological explanations behind why alcohol can directly lead to increased levels of glucose in the blood, the difference between men and women in our study is more difficult to explain."

Her researchers used data from the Northern Swedish Cohort study starting in 1981 with 897 people asked about alcohol consumption at 16, 18, 21, 30 and 43 - at which point a blood sample was taken from each to assess glucose.

The survey involved eight questions about alcohol consumption including "how often do you drink alcohol?" and "how much do you drink at each occasion?".

Binge drinking was defined as drinking four or more standard drinks of beer, wine or spirits per occasion for women - and five or more for men - at least once per month.

One standard drink was specified to contain 12g of ethanol - which is equivalent to 330ml of a 5-6% beer.

Dr Nygren said the study shows an association between alcohol consumption and higher blood glucose - but cannot show cause and effect.

The data is limited by the fact that information on alcohol consumption comes from self-reported questionnaires and could be subject to bias.

But she said the long term nature of the study - which included multiple follow ups - offers a unique insight into the drinking behaviours of people throughout their life.

Earlier this year a study from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found among 16 to 24 year-olds in the UK, girls and women are more likely to binge drink regularly than men.

Four-in-ten (40.5%) admitted to having done so in the past week - up 3 percent on last year.

Only a third (34.4%) of men admitted to doing the same - a 13 per cent drop on last year.

The NHS says binge drinking is commonly defined as consuming more than eight units of alcohol in a single session for men and more than six units for women.

Eight units is just over three pints of 4% strength beer. Six units is just over two large glasses (175ml) of 13% strength wine.

Previous research has shown excessive drinking can raise young women's risk of suffering breast cancer by 40 percent.