Happy Saturday! Welcome to Ask D'Mine, hosted by our weekly advice column hosted by veteran type 1, diabetes author and community educator Wil Dubois. This week, Wil is in his glory answering the question whether alcohol consumption actually helps us PWDs stay healthier and live longer? Raise your glass and read on to find out what Wil says about that... Cheers!

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Jake, type 1 from Alaska, writes: Wil, I love whiskey. And a good cigar, but that's not the point of why I'm writing. I saw in the news recently that story of an 89-year-old man from New York who received the first-ever 80-year Joslin Medal for living with type 1 for more than eight decades. Aside from the usual exercise and eating healthy tips, he also says the "secret weapon" to his longevity has been drinking 1-½ ounces of scotch whiskey every evening. There are always stories about wine being good for you, but believe me, we need your expertise in getting a flat-out answer to the question: Is it true that drinking whiskey leads to longer life?

Wil@AsSpencer-Wallacek D'Mine answers: Right, you're talking about Spencer Wallace, the oldest surviving type 1 in the world. He got his first shot at the age of eight (or at age seven according to some media reports) back in 1931. What a different world it was then! Or so I've heard, as I'm not that old-school... Insulin was less than a decade old, telegraph was still more common than long-distance phone calls, the Golden Gate Bridge hadn't been built yet, and much of rural America didn't even have electricity. In 1931 a gallon of gas cost 10¢, a typical car would set you back a hair over $600—or you could score a brand-spanking new luxury Studebaker President four seasons roadster for $1,690—and a pack of Marlboros was 17¢. Herbert Hoover was president of the United States, Alka Seltzer and paper towels had just been introduced, and the Star Spangled Banner was adopted by Congress as the National Anthem. I couldn't find out the exact price of insulin in those days, but people were already complaining about cost.

But back to your question about the health benefits of whiskey: Whiskey is fat-free, gluten-free, and low-carb. Why, it's practically a health food! And a great many very, very, very old people—especially those over the age of 100—often credit their long lives to a daily dose, or two, of spirits.

Innovation 2015

Oddly, I can't find any double-blind, randomized, controlled clinical trials looking at whiskey as medicine. But that said, there's been some interesting research. The Scotch Whiskey Research Institute (how does one get a job there?) claims that the golden liquid protects the heart from coronary heart disease. And a study, fittingly first presented in Glasgow Scotland, suggests whiskey could be an anti-cancer compound thanks to its high levels of an antioxidant called ellagic acid. Other whiskey research has shown that it (and alcohol in general): raises "good" cholesterol, lowers the risk of gallstones, lowers blood clot risks, and may reduce dementia in the elderly. WhiskWhiskey Barreley can even be used to clean wounds! So, really, carrying a flask with you is a medicine cabinet and a first aid kit rolled into one. Some people even claim that whiskey can prevent diabetes... OK, that last one didn't work out so well for me.

But, to complicate the research, there's more than one kind of whiskey. There are hundreds (and no, I haven't tried them all...yet). Broadly there are malt and grain; then these are further broken down into single malt or blends. Different very old people report drinking different whiskeys. Mr. Wallace's choice, Scotch, is a whiskey made only in Scotland. But even that gets more complicated. There are five categories of Scotch.

For many people, even whiskey lovers, Scotch is an acquired taste. And it's a taste I never acquired. I still remember, not fondly, my first glass of Scotch. My dad was a Scotch-on-the-rocks drinker, although I guess he didn't drink it often enough, as he died at the age of only 77. Anyway, I remember when I was 14 or 15 I took a trip to Europe. I had read somewhere that as there's no drinking age over international waters, underage booze-curious punks like me could get served over the Atlantic. As soon as New York was well behind our tail, I called the stewardess and confidently ordered a Scotch on the rocks—the only drink I knew the name of.

Of course she laughed in my face.

So I moved up to the next section of the airliner (you could do that in those days) and tried again. The new stewardess complied with a tiny bit of a smirk on her face and promptly brought me my drink.

I confidently raised the glass to my lips and took a slug. It was the foulest thing in the world. As I sat choking and sputtering, a bemused businessman in the next seat commented, "That'll put hair on your chest."

Of course, I had to force myself to drink the whole damn thing, young-male pride and all. I never did develop a taste for Scotch, although I did get a bottle of the Shackleton to drink while watching the movie, just for the fun of it. It was OK, but I'd still rather have another type of whiskey. What type? There are English whiskeys, Irish whiskeys, Welsh whiskeys, Canadian whiskeys, and even Indian and Japanese whiskeys. But personally, I'm fond of American whiskeys, often called Bourbons. And there are a lot of grey and bald bourbon drinkers who anecdotally credit their longevity to Kentucky gold.

Wait a sec, you say. The theoretical long-term health benefits aside, isn't whiskey bad for your diabetes? Actually, contrary to popular rumor, straight whiskey is not packed full of sugar. Nor are other distilled spirits like vodka, rum, rye, tequila, brandy and gin. Even though the basic ingredients that make these drinks are things like corn, barley, rye, potatoes, fruit and even sugar cane—the distillation process wipes out the carbs. They're a blood sugar freebie.

Of course you do need to watch out for flavored spirits like Capt. Morgan's Spice Rum and my beloved Evan Williams Cinnamon Whiskey Whiskey Bottle(made by Heaven Hill Distilleries—I couldn't have made that up if I tried), which has so much added sugar that the cap will stick to the bottle if too many days go by between drinks. And if you don't drink a spirit straight up, you need to be careful of your mixer. A rum and Coke has a lot of carbs. Sure, you can use Coke Zero or Diet Coke and be fine, but how much do you trust the bartender at Applebee's on a busy Friday night?

Of course, liquor in excess carries a long history of both biological and societal woes. But it in sensible quantities it does no harm to your diabetes, and there really is some evidence that it may help keep you on the planet long enough to win some Joslin medals.

And speaking of medals, I pray Mr. Wallace lives long enough to get the first Joslin 100-year medal. I raise my whiskey glass to your health, Sir.

 

This is not a medical advice column. We are PWDs freely and openly sharing the wisdom of our collected experiences — our been-there-done-that knowledge from the trenches. But we are not MDs, RNs, NPs, PAs, CDEs, or partridges in pear trees. Bottom line: we are only a small part of your total prescription. You still need the professional advice, treatment, and care of a licensed medical professional.

 

 
Disclaimer: Content created by the Diabetes Mine team. For more details click here.

Disclaimer

This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a consumer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and doesn't adhere to Healthline's editorial guidelines. For more information about Healthline's partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.