It is not uncommon to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner or to have drinks after work with friends. Alcohol consumption is very prevalent in the United States.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in 2014:
For many people, a glass of alcohol here and there does not pose a problem. For those with certain health conditions such as diabetes, however, alcohol can affect blood sugar levels and pose a health risk. It is important for them to understand what alcohol is and how it affects blood sugar levels.
What is alcohol?
The way that alcohol affects the body differs from person to person.
Alcohol is made from the fermentation of yeast, sugars, and starches. Fruits, vegetables, additives, and other by-products are added to the alcohol to produce different colors, strengths, tastes, and flavors.
It is a depressant and classed as a “sedative-hypnotic drug” because it depresses the central nervous system. Every organ in the body can be affected by alcohol. Once consumed, it is rapidly absorbed by the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream.
For an average person, the liver can typically break down one standard drink of alcohol per hour. Excess alcohol moves throughout the body. The amount not broken down by the liver is removed by the lungs and kidneys in urine and sweat.
Alcohol’s effect on the body
How alcohol affects a person’s body depends on how much they consume. At low doses, alcohol can act as a stimulant. People may feel happy, or become talkative.
Drinking too much alcohol can impair the body and lead to:
The way a person reacts to alcohol is also influenced by other factors, including:
Alcohol and blood sugar levels
A person’s overall health plays a big role in how they respond to alcohol. People with diabetes or other blood sugar problems must be careful when consuming alcohol.
Alcohol consumption can interfere with blood sugar as well as the hormones needed to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Frequent heavy drinkers can wipe out their energy storage in a few hours.
Over time, excessive alcohol consumption can reduce the overall effectiveness of insulin. This results in high blood sugar levels. Many people with alcoholic liver disease also have either glucose intolerance or diabetes.
According to the Mayo Clinic, normal fasting blood sugar levels should range from 70-100 milligrams per deciliter. People who have diabetes generally have a blood sugar level higher than 126 milligrams per deciliter.
Uncontrolled diabetes increases the risk of:
People with diabetes have to be very careful when it comes to drinking alcohol. It is a good idea that they talk to their doctor so that they thoroughly understand the risks involved.
Some medicines should not be taken with alcohol. People with diabetes should make sure to pay attention to any potential warnings.
Alcohol consumption can lead to dangerously low blood sugar. This is because the liver has to work to remove the alcohol from the blood instead of managing blood sugar levels.
Symptoms of low blood sugar are similar to the symptoms of too much alcohol, including:
Alcohol consumption guidelines
People with diabetes who plan on drinking should check their blood sugar levels before and up to 24 hours after drinking. They should also check levels before going to bed to ensure they are stable.
According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one standard drink in the U.S. is equal to 14.0 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol. Drinks such as beer and wine can have an alcohol content of anywhere from 2-20 percent. Spirits or liquor can contain 40-50 percent or even more alcohol.
Below is the alcohol content in common alcoholic drinks according to the CDC. Each is equal to one drink.
Tips for people with blood sugar problems
People with blood sugar problems should avoid mixed drinks and cocktails. These drinks are often full of sugar and empty calories and will increase blood sugar levels.
.The American Diabetes Association recommend the following for people with diabetes when they drink:
When it comes to alcohol, those with blood sugar problems should always remain cautious, however. It is best to follow daily recommended consumption limits.