Diabetes and Alcohol: Do the Two Mix? (Part 2)

By Amy Campbell | January 28, 2008 1:16 pm

Last week, in "Diabetes and Alcohol: Do the Two Mix? (Part 1)," we looked at one reason why diabetes and alcohol sometimes don’t mix: hypoglycemia. We know that hypoglycemia can occur after drinking alcohol because the liver may be "too busy" processing the alcohol to release enough glucose into the bloodstream.

But it looks like there’s another reason why hypoglycemia may occur after drinking alcohol. A new study out of Karolinska University in Stockholm, Sweden, published in this month’s issue of the journal Endocrinology, reveals that, in rats, alcohol sends large amounts of blood to the beta cells[1] in the pancreas, stimulating them to release insulin[2], and thus lowering blood glucose levels.


While hypoglycemia is something that those prone to it aim to avoid, there is a benefit to alcohol’s ability to lower glucose levels. An Israeli study (published in the journal Diabetes Care in December 2007) of 109 people with Type 2 diabetes looked at fasting blood glucose (FBG) levels after the participants were given either wine or nonalcoholic beer at supper for three months. Prior to the study, the subjects did not drink alcohol. FBG in the wine-drinking group dropped from an average of about 140 mg/dl to 118 mg/dl. FBG didn’t drop in the control group. Alcohol had no effect on postmeal glucose levels.

The lead author of the study concluded that a glass of an alcoholic beverage could be prescribed for people with Type 2 diabetes as part of the evening meal. However, it would be important to include carbohydrate at the meal, and also to deduct about 100 calories from food so as to avoid weight gain from the added calories from the alcoholic beverage. And, of course, one should always discuss the use of alcohol with his or her health-care provider.

So, we’ve learned that drinking alcohol can lower blood glucose levels—which can be a good thing as long as the alcohol is consumed with some carbohydrate. But what about alcohol and other health issues? Sometimes we hear that alcohol is good for us; other times it seems like we should avoid it like the plague. While there is no clear-cut answer that suits everyone, it may be helpful to view alcohol in terms of a cost/benefit analysis.

Costs—drinking alcohol may increase the risk for:

Benefits—drinking alcohol may help:

Of course, some people shouldn’t drink alcohol at all. These include pregnant women, people with liver or pancreatic disease, people with uncontrolled diabetes, and those with a history of alcoholism. And be very careful if you take any of the following medicines, as they don’t mix well with alcohol: antibiotics, beta blockers, antihistamines, antidepressants[5], some diabetes medicines, and pain relievers.

Do your own cost/benefit analysis and ask for advice from your health-care team. Next week, we’ll look at how to fit alcohol into your meal plan, as well as some of the better choices, if you choose to imbibe.

  1. beta cells: http://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/articles/Diabetes_Definitions/Beta_Cells
  2. insulin: http://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/articles/Diabetes_Definitions/Insulin
  3. stroke: http://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/articles/Diabetes_Definitions/Stroke
  4. cholesterol: http://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/articles/Diabetes_Definitions/Cholesterol
  5. antidepressants: http://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/articles/Diabetes_Definitions/Antidepressants

Source URL: http://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/diabetes-and-alcohol-do-the-two-mix-part-2/

Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin.

Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

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