One of the most common questions among people with diabetes is whether they can drink alcohol. The real answer is more complicated than you might expect, so it really is ‘it depends.’
There are many health reasons why people should avoid alcohol, some of them linked to diabetes and others to a different health complication. That’s why it’s best to consult your healthcare provider if you have any doubts or concerns.
Even though you might have a hard time finding a health organization that recommends drinking alcohol, there are some who agree moderate alcohol consumption is not-off limits to some people.
They include the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Organization, and the American Diabetes Association.
However, what’s the concern with diabetes and alcohol? Why and when some of these people should avoid it?
Here are few facts that will help you understand if people with diabetes should avoid alcohol.
When you drink alcohol, your liver sees it as a drug, so it prepares to eliminate this poison. For that purpose, it has to break it down into less harmful substances which takes about 2 hours.
However, the liver performs many other functions in the body, including glucose release when the levels of blood glucose are starting to drop.
But, when alcohol enters your body, it becomes its number one priority, leaving its other functions behind. This means that if your blood sugar levels start decreasing, your liver won’t be able to see that and release the needed glucose.
This could end up in hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar which is dangerous for people with diabetes. It can lead to clumsiness, unconsciousness and even death.
Taking your diabetes medication doesn’t mean you are less likely to experience hypoglycemia when drinking alcohol. In fact, taking some diabetes medication like meglitinides, sulfonylureas, chlorpropamide, tolazamide, insulin, glyburide, glimepiride, or nateglinide increases your risk of low blood sugar.
That’s because these medications stimulate insulin secretion in the pancreas, thus reducing blood sugar levels. So, combining alcohol with some of these medications is not the best idea for people with diabetes.
If you plan to drink alcohol, make sure you eat some snack or meal which contains carbohydrates before or during the alcohol consumption. Foods with carbohydrates slow down the absorption of alcohol in the bloodstream.
According to an Israeli study, people with type 2 diabetes can drink a glass of alcohol as part of their dinner. The study showed that drinking alcohol in this way can lower blood sugar levels after a meal.
However, the dinner should include some food with carbohydrates, and 100 calories less to avoid weight gain.
Exercise lowers your blood sugar levels, so if you grab a beer or wine right after running or skiing, you can further reduce your blood sugar. This could lead to hyperglycemia.
Overall, the effect of alcohol on your blood glucose level depends on your alcohol metabolism rate, which is individual. In fact, it depends on your body size, the amount and time of consumption, level of physical activity, as well as the amount and type of food consumed along with alcohol.
Some people should avoid alcohol as much as possible. They include pregnant women, those with uncontrolled diabetes, people with pancreatic or liver disease, and those with a history of alcoholism.
What’s more, you should know that alcohol increases the risk for the following problems:
Researchers believe alcohol might help:
Women with diabetes can have 2 units of alcohol a day, whereas men can have 3. But, sometimes a pint of beer can constitute 3 units, and a glass of wine can reach 2 units.
One alcohol unit equals to half a pint of standard strength beer, 50ml of vermouth or sherry, and 25ml of vodka, gin, or whiskey.
As you can see, people with diabetes should have several things in mind when drinking alcohol. But, this doesn’t mean that they can’t drink in moderate amounts, especially red wine.