Expert Advice: Alcohol Awareness and Diabetes

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By : dLife Editors

By: Theresa Garnero, BC-ADM, MSN, CDE.

Jeopardy Cocktail: Mix one part diabetes, one part alcohol, and you take your chances.

This article reviews a wide variety of research findings related to diabetes and alcohol consumption, in addition to some basic approaches to minimize negative consequences.

Keep in mind that drinking alcohol interferes with the liver’s ability to release stored glucose and therefore affects blood glucose values in a most unpredictable way.

What have the researchers discovered? See if you can make sense of some of the latest conclusions:

Hypoglycemia and alcohol consumption reduce cognitive function:

We already know hypoglycemia (glucose less than 70) in and of itself interferes with thinking, as does alcohol. Did you know that a hypoglycemic driver can be mistaken for being drunk? As an ex-ER nurse, I beg you not to drink and drive, and as a certified diabetes educator, I encourage you to test your glucose before getting behind the wheel.

A reduced incidence of type 2 diabetes is associated with low to moderate alcohol consumption:

That doesn’t mean we all should load up our grocery carts with booze and take up drinking because alcohol can also increase blood glucose levels after meals.

This suggests there is a delicate balance between the benefits and harmful effects of alcohol.

Moderate consumption of alcohol (no more than 1 drink a day for women and 2 drinks per day for men) has an anti-inflammatory action which could lower cardiovascular mortality, yet can put one at risk for alcohol abuse.

Drinking moderate amounts of wine, beer, or hard alcohol is associated with better blood glucose control among healthy adults, particularly women:

Women who drank any kind of alcohol had lower A1C levels (3-month glucose averages) than non-drinkers. In men, only wine was associated with lower glucose levels perhaps because wine is associated with a healthier lifestyle, such as not smoking and a higher level of education.

Beer drinking among men is linked to smoking and a less healthy diet. This study was done in Europe where it can take hours to get through a meal. Quite a different lifestyle than in the U.S., to say the least.

Here are some more facts about alcohol and diabetes:

  • Alcohol overdose is the leading cause of death due to hypoglycemia in the U.S.
  • Hypoglycemia is one of the main causes for people with diabetes to go to the emergency room.
  • Alcohol consumed in the evening may cause hypoglycemia in people with Type 1 after breakfast the next day. This hits many people by surprise and can be quite dangerous when coupled with an early morning exercise routine.
  • Alcohol is toxic to nerves. Some studies show that even light regular drinking (2 drinks a week) can cause nerve damage.
  • Moderate alcohol levels are linked to a decrease in insulin levels (while drinking for 90 minutes after a meal). Lack of insulin can lead to diabetes.
  • More than 3 alcoholic drinks a day increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 43 percent.

After reading this, is your mind spinning as if you already had a drink? Let’s look at some practical pointers should you decide to enjoy a social cocktail:

1. Check with your medical provider about risks of alcohol on your diabetes.

2. Never drink on an empty stomach. It’s best to drink alcohol slowly while having something to eat.

3. Limit sweetened alcoholic beverages that contain fruit juice/sugar content.

4. Test, don’t guess your blood sugar. The next time you consider adding a little alcohol, play it smart.

NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition.

Updated 8/18 by dLife Editors.