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

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 study out of Karolinska University in Stockholm, Sweden, published in the journal Endocrinology in 2008 revealed that, in rats, alcohol sends large amounts of blood to the beta cells in the pancreas, stimulating them to release insulin, 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:

  • Hypoglycemia
  • Cancer (of the pancreas, breast, mouth, larynx, and liver)
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cardiomyopathy (weakening of the heart muscle)
  • Cirrhosis
  • High blood pressure
  • Miscarriage
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Accidents

Benefits — drinking alcohol may help:

  • Lower the risk of heart disease
  • Lower the risk of stroke
  • Raise levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol
  • Lower the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes
  • Prevent gallstone formation

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, 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.

Want to learn more about diabetes and alcohol? Read “Diabetes and Alcohol: Do the Two Mix? (Part 1),” “Diabetes and Alcohol: Do the Two Mix? (Part 3),” “Diabetes and Drinking: Seven Facts to Know,” and “Alcohol and Diabetes: Tips for Staying Safe.”

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  • Tom Embleton

    I was diagnosed with Type 2 in January 2004. I was exercising 3-4 times a week for 60 min, eating 2000 calories per day and trying to lose weight.

    After being diagnosed, put on meds and visiting with a nutritionist, I lost 40 pounds in 6 months and have maintained that weight since.

    I wanted off the meds and noticed that when I had a glass of wine at night, my FBS dropped 10-15 points (per glass).

    I learned to eat before 8:00p and the drink the wine during or after dinner. I showed my results to the doctor and was able to get off all medications since September 2005.

    I find that I have to watch the amount of carbs at dinner, to control my FBS, more than the alcohol. I try to eat carb meals for lunch and salads and protein (fish, nuts, chicken, pork) for dinner.

    My average FBS is 105 and latest HAIC is 5.9 and has been since I stopped the meds. It was higher (6.3-7.7) before..

  • pertman

    I’ve noticed with a drink or two the night before, my FBG was at least 10 points lower.

  • Arend

    My apologies Amy I found part 2 of diabetes and alcohol.
    Thanks for your infomative blogs and stories.

  • acampbell

    Thanks, Arend. I’m glad you find them helpful.

  • jim snell


    Thanks for providing such a well balanced report providing detailed look at this situation.

    I love a good hard drink. One seems ok. I have to watch out that I do not get too much strong alcohol all the way down the GI track as sometimes my big
    intestine will do a reactor scram and dump.

    Thanks for calorie planning data as well.

    Jim Snell