Modest alcohol consumption does not have protective effects against obesity and type II diabetes mellitus (T2DM), but heavy alcohol consumption could lead to increased obesity traits and T2DM risk, according to a study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism

Researchers performed a Mendelian randomization (MR) analysis to determine the dose-dependent association of alcohol intake and obesity measures and T2DM risk among 408,540 individuals (women: n=220,900; mean age, 56.7 years; men: n=187,640; mean age, 57.1 years) from the UK Biobank from 2006 to 2010. Among women included in the study, 23.2% had obesity and 6.1% had T2DM. These values were 25.4% and 10.8% among men, respectively.

Study participants underwent a total of 10 anthropometric measurements and reported weekly alcohol consumption. The investigators stratified participants according to alcohol intake (0-3.5 drinks per week; >3.5-7 drinks per week; >7-14 drinks per week; >14 drinks per weeks) and used linear regression to determine associations between self-reported alcohol consumption and obesity and T2DM. Mendelian randomization determined associations between genetically predicted alcohol intake and anthropometric measurements.

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After excluding individuals who did not consume alcohol (women: 28.8%; men: 16.1%) alcohol consumption frequency was 9.1 and 14.6 drinks per week for women and men, respectively. Among individuals who consumed 0 to 3.5 drinks per week, increased alcohol intake was negatively correlated with weight and body size measurements. However, these measures were positively correlated in individuals who reported more alcohol consumption.

Nonlinear MR analysis demonstrated that moderate-to-heavy alcohol intake (> 7 drinks per week) was associated with increased body weight and size. A 1 drink-per-week increase in genetically predicted alcohol intake frequency in individuals who consumed more than 14 drinks per week was associated with a 0.36 kg increase in fat mass, a 0.16 kg increase in fat free mass, a 0.45 cm increase in waist circumference, and a 0.29 cm increase in hip circumference (P <.0001 for all). However, genetically predicted alcohol intake did not demonstrate any associations in individuals with light-to-moderate alcohol intake, according to the report. 

MR analyses also determined that genetically increased alcohol intake was associated with an increased risk for T2DM and obesity. These associations were most significant among individuals who consumed 14 or more drinks per week. The 1 drink-per-week increase in genetically predicted alcohol intake frequency was associated with a 1.08-fold increase in obesity risk (95% CI, 1.06-1.10; P <.0001) and a 1.10-fold increased T2DM risk (95% CI, 1.06-1.13; P <.0001), the report shows.

Study limitations include a cohort consisting exclusively of individuals of European ancestry, which may limit the globalization of these findings.

“[H]uman genetics evidence supports that heavy alcohol consumption can lead to increased [body mass index], [waist-to-hip ratio], faster accumulation of body fat, and can increase risks of obesity and type 2 diabetes,” according to the study authors. “On the other hand, light-to-moderate alcohol consumption may not protect against these adverse health outcomes.”

Disclosure: Some study authors declared affiliations with biotech, pharmaceutical, and/or device companies. Please see the original reference for a full list of authors’ disclosures. 


Lu T, Nakanishi T, Yoshiji S, Butler-Laporte G, Greenwood CMT, Richards JB. “Dose-dependent association of alcohol consumption With obesity and type 2 diabetes: Mendelian randomization analyses.” J Clin Endocrinol Metab. Published online June 27, 2023. doi:10.1210/clinem/dgad324.

This article originally appeared on Endocrinology Advisor