A new study of the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption indicate a couple of drinks a day may help prevent diabetes. The finding is contained in a study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

As people age, their risk of diabetes goes up. Experts say their bodies become less responsive to insulin, a natural hormone that's produced by the body to convert sugar into energy.

Based on growing evidence that alcohol consumption may be good for your health, researchers recruited 51 healthy older women for a study.

The women were divided into three groups. One group was given a single drink per day, while the others were given two drinks per day and or no alcohol at all. At the end of eight weeks, blood samples were taken, and the groups were switched to different alcohol levels. There were three rotation periods.

Investigators found insulin levels were nearly 20 percent lower in the women who consumed two drinks a day compared to those who had no alcohol. The levels of triglycerides in the two-drink-per day groups were also about ten percent lower than the no-alcohol groups. Triglycerides are a type of fat associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

David Baer is one of the study's authors. "We think these data are very important because they help define some of the health risks and benefits associated with moderate alcohol consumption. And clearly this is important for individuals who choose to drink alcohol and choose to drink in moderation who are interested in their diet; in how their diet impacts their health," he said.

Researchers found it didn't matter how much the participants weighed.

While the study found the most benefit occurred with two drinks a day, Mr. Baer says moderation is still best. "Moderation is defined as no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. There is overwhelming evidence that consumption of alcohol in excess of moderation is not only not beneficial, but it is also in fact harmful," he said.

The authors of the study are reluctant to recommend drinking a glass of wine or two a day as a hedge against diabetes. That's because they did not test their subjects to see whether they were pre-diabetic.

Christopher Saudek is President of the American Diabetes Association. Dr. Saudek was asked whether the next step is to see if alcohol prevents diabetes in people who are likely to develop the disease. "In the United States, we seem to have this puritan avoidance of alcohol as a benefit. It would be interesting to find out whether mild to moderate intake, compared to no alcohol intake, prevents diabetes. That sort of study would take quite a few years to do and would have to be quite big. So it could be kind of hard to do, but it could be interesting," he said.

The study's authors have said they don't know why alcohol reduces insulin levels in the blood. They add their study is the first to look at the relationship between alcohol consumption and insulin levels.