Looking at Alcohol Consumption and Diabetes

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By : dLife Editors

Did you know April is National Alcohol Awareness Month?

The day was established by The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) to help reduce the stigma often associated with alcoholism by encouraging communities to reach out to the American public with information about alcohol, alcoholism, and recovery.  For those living with diabetes, it may be a good time to think about the effects of alcohol consumption on their bodies.

A large body of research indicates that moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with lower risk for type 2 diabetes.  Findings published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicates that light and moderate alcohol consumption was associated with a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, whereas heavy alcohol consumption was not related to the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

The researchers looked at over 26 studies on alcohol and diabetes that involved 706,716 people. They determined that those who had one drink per day had a 17% lower risk of developing diabetes and that those who averaged one to two drinks daily had a 26% lower risk. However, alcohol consumption that was greater had little or no effect on diabetes risk.  Even more interesting was that researchers found the benefits of light to moderate drinking were greater for women than men.

Diabetes and Alcohol: Benefits of Moderate Consumption

1. Improves Good Cholesterol (HDL)

Alcohol can increase your HDL levels or “good” cholesterol that is needed by the body to remove “bad” cholesterol or LDL. A healthy level of HDL in the body reduces the risks of developing certain heart diseases while low levels of HDL does the opposite.  However, individuals with diabetes should be mindful of the amount of alcohol they consume to avoid weight gain.

2. Improves Insulin Sensitivity

Research published in American Diabetes Association’s Care Journal indicates that women with type 2 diabetes who drink in moderation, could see a small improvement in insulin sensitivity. Insulin sensitivity is a measure of how sensitive the body is to insulin.  When you are insulin sensitive, your body will need a smaller amount of insulin to lower blood glucose compared to an individual who is insulin resistant.  Although the study had a small sample size and was of short duration, the current evidence suggests that moderate alcohol consumption may decrease fasting insulin and HbA1c concentrations among nondiabetic subjects. Alcohol consumption might improve insulin sensitivity among women but didn’t do so overall.

3. Reduces Risk of Heart Disease

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that women with type 2 diabetes who engaged in moderate alcohol consumption were slightly healthier and had a lower risk of developing heart diseases than those who did not consume alcohol.  However, the rule of thumb with alcohol in moderation, and in this case, no more than 1 drink a day for women.

Diabetes and Alcohol: Side-effects

The benefits of moderate alcohol consumption cannot be looked at without looking at the side-effects.  Alcohol does have negative effects on your body, especially on blood sugar levels.

According to BeyondType1.org, if you have diabetes, drinking may cause increased risks to the body.  If you have both Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes and drink alcohol, you may be at a heightened risk for diabetes complications including neuropathy, retinopathy, increased triglycerides, increased blood pressure and liver damage or cirrhosis

If you’re having trouble in managing your blood sugar levels, you should consider if it’s safe for you to drink alcohol at all.

1. Causes Hypoglycemia

Do not drink alcohol on an empty stomach especially if you have low blood glucose. The alcohol will only cause an increase in low blood glucose which leads to hypoglycemia.

Hypoglycemia occurs when your blood glucose levels drop. According to the ADA, alcohol can cause hypoglycemia right after alcohol consumption and can last for up to 24 hours. It is imperative that you check your blood sugar levels before drinking, during drinking, before you go to bed, and for the next 24 hours.

Have a healthy dinner or a snack that contains carbohydrates if you are planning on consuming alcohol.

2. Interacts with Medication

People with diabetes are on different types of medications to regulate their insulin and blood glucose. Alcohol consumption affects our blood sugar levels by either elevating them or lowering them.

This could be an issue when alcohol and medication clash and cause the blood sugar levels to drop leaving the individual with hypoglycemia or in insulin shock. Patients in these circumstances need to be rushed to the hospital or attended to by a medical professional immediately.

3. Affects the Liver

Your liver is the essential part of the body that helps remove toxins and wastes along with keeping the blood sugar levels in check.

When alcohol is consumed, the liver has to work towards removing alcohol from the blood and move away from working to regulating glucose levels. This becomes an issue when blood glucose is already on the lower side and could lead to hypoglycemia.

Moderation is Key

The trick to maintaining a healthy balance between diabetes and alcohol consumption is moderation.

A few tips and advice to take away:

  • Do not drink on an empty stomach
  • Limit yourself
  • Do not drink more than 1 glass per day if you are a woman, and 2 glasses per day if you are a man
  • Choose a calorie-free drink and avoid sugary sodas and juices
  • Check your blood sugar regularly while you are out drinking
  • Make sure your blood sugar is at a regular safe level before you go to bed after a night out

Diabetes can be controlled or even reversed (type 2) if you strive to maintain a healthy lifestyle that includes a well-balanced diet and regular exercise.

If you have never been fond of drinking, or do not drink at all, now is not the time to start. Make an appointment with your doctor for his or her advice on whether you can consume alcohol and types are safe to have in moderation.

Sources:

  1. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 103, Issue 3, 1 March 2016, Pages 818–829, Accessed April 23, 2018.  https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/103/3/818/4637587?searchresult=1
  2. Circulation, 
  3. Diabetes Care.  “The Effect of Alcohol Consumption on Insulin Sensitivity and Glycemic Status: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Intervention Studies,”  Accessed April 23, 2018: http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/38/4/723