An epidemic of type 2 diabetes looms over the western world, with some estimates predicting that as many as a third of all Americans will have the condition within a decade or two. Obesity is the culprit, a complicated issue to be sure but the role of wine in the diet of diabetics is even more so. A recent study finding that low-dose supplements of the wine-derived polyphenol resveratrol improve glucose tolerance and other parameters in humans provides some guidance in sorting it all out.
It has long been known that wine drinkers, especially those who consume red wine in moderation with dinner on a daily basis, are less likely to gain weight and hence less prone to type 2 diabetes. There are a number of potential explanations, including the fact that wine drinking is linked to a range of healthy lifestyle factors including diet and exercise, but the science of wine polyphenols – including the antioxidant resveratrol – provides some intriguing evidence of a biochemical mechanism at work. Studies in mice have been very promising but this new randomized prospective double-blind study, on 19 human subjects, documents that it can be useful clinically if the results can be verified. Importantly the study used a low dose of 10 milligrams daily, consistent with what you might get in wine.
The question of whether it would be better to take the supplements and avoid the calories from wine remains a subject of debate. Clearly, wine drinkers do better in terms of developing type 2 diabetes, and resveratrol may have little to do with it. But calories from alcohol are metabolized differently that from carbohydrates and other food components, so that the spike in blood sugar is minimized.
All of this brings us back to the role of wine as a food. In the case of diabetics, it may actually be a functional food, by avoiding the types of calories that make the problem worse while providing natural ingredients that could actually improve the condition on a biomolecular level. In order for it to work, however, it all has to be integrated into a healthy lifestyle.