Alcohol and Diabetic Retinopathy (Drinking is Protective)

Are alcohol and diabetic retinopathy (DR) linked? There is strong evidence that they are. But first, what is DR?


I.   The Disease

II.  The Study

III. Risk Factors

IV.  Resources

Alcohol and Diabetic Retinopathy

I. The Disease

DR is a disease that causes impaired vision or even total blindness. It does this by damaging blood vessels in the retina. The retina is needed for vision. This disease usually affects both eyes. And it can affect anyone with diabetes. That is, either type 1 or type 2.

In early stages of the disease, there may be no symptoms. But as it progresses, symptoms may include these.

    • Blurred vision.
    • Dark or empty areas in vision.
    • Floaters (That is, spots or strings that float in vision.)
    • Fluctuating vision.
    • Impaired color vision. 

Here’s an example of normal vision compared with DR. As vision deteriorates, the black patches continue to spread. That can lead to total blindness.

alcohol and diabetic retinopathy

II. The Study: Alcohol and Diabetic Retinopathy

alcohol and diabetic retinopathyResearchers studied alcohol and DR over time. They did so among 656 people with diabetes. All had retinal photos taken at the start of the study. Then they had photos six years later at follow-up. The researchers also had data on drinking quantity and frequency and other data.

The researchers found that diabetics who drank alcohol had nearly two-thirds lower risk of developing the disease. That was in comparison with non-drinkers. But there was no link between drinking and progression. That is, once the disease began.

So the bottom line is simple. Drinking alcohol greatly reduces the chance of getting this serious eye disease.

avoid frailty in ageingAnd moderate drinking any form of alcohol generally has equal health benefits. That is, wine, beer, and spirits (liquor) are all helpful.

III. Risk Factors

Anyone who has diabetes can develop DR. Risk of developing it can increase as a result of these.

    • alcohol and diabetic retinopathyAbstinence from alcohol.
    • Being African American, Hispanic or Native American.
    • Duration of diabetes. (As duration increases, so does risk.)
    • High blood pressure.
    • High cholesterol.
    • Poor control of blood sugar.
    • Pregnancy.
    • Tobacco use.

Drinking alcohol greatly reduces the chance of getting DR.

IV. Resources

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    • This site gives no advice. Please see your doctor with questions.