One of the most common questions among those with diabetes is whether they can drink alcohol. The real answer is more complicated than people 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 different health complications. That’s why it’s best to consult our healthcare provider if we have any doubts or concerns.
Even though we 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 a few facts that will help people understand if those with diabetes should avoid alcohol.
When we drink alcohol, our 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 take about 2 hours.
However, the liver performs many other functions in the body, including glucose released when the levels of blood glucose are starting to drop.
But, when alcohol enters our body, it becomes its number one priority, leaving its other functions behind. This means that if our blood sugar levels start decreasing, our 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 those with diabetes. It can lead to clumsiness, unconsciousness, and even death.
Taking our diabetes medication doesn’t mean WE 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 our 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 those with diabetes.
If we plan to drink alcohol, make sure to eat some snack or meal which contains carbohydrates before or during alcohol consumption. Foods with carbohydrates slow down the absorption of alcohol in the bloodstream.
According to an Israeli study, those 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 our blood sugar levels, so if we grab a beer or wine right after running or skiing, we can further reduce our blood sugar. This could lead to hyperglycemia.
Overall, the effect of alcohol on our blood glucose level depends on our alcohol metabolism rate, which is individual. In fact, it depends on our 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, those with pancreatic or liver disease, and those with a history of alcoholism.
What’s more, we 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 half a pint of standard strength beer, 50ml of vermouth or sherry, and 25ml of vodka, gin, or whiskey.
Those 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.