Diabetes and Alcohol – The Ugly Twins

The main objective of a diabetic patient is to control his sugar level. The food and beverages that we consume will have an effect on that control. Some food and beverages have even a bigger effect. Alcohol is one of them, and has a direct influence on diabetes management.

Alcohol should be wisely used. Alcohol has a dehydrating effect on the body, so keep that in mind. Alcohol is very high in calories, which can lead to increase in bodyweight and blood fat levels. People with poorly controlled diabetes should not drink alcohol altogether.

It is recommended that those with diabetes avoid drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Guidelines for diabetics and alcohol consumption are as follows: one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Those over 65 should also only allow themselves one drink per day.

Alcohol moves through the bloodstream quite easily without ever being metabolized in the stomach. Without giving the liver the proper amount of time to break down the alcohol, it will move to other organs in the body and eventually build up in the bloodstream. Your body can only break down one ounce of alcohol per hour.

Many times people will drink more beverages on a party, than eating food. Diabetic patients can develop hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in such situations. Alcohol tends to lower blood sugar even more.

Generally, when diabetics are experiencing low blood sugar levels, the liver changes the stored carbohydrates in the body into glucose. This glucose in the bloodstream slows down the ‘low glucose’ reaction that the body is having.

So, what is happening when you are taking alcohol? When a diabetic person experiences low glucose levels while drinking alcohol, the trouble lies in that the liver, reacting to the alcohol that has built up in the bloodstream as a toxin, will go on red alert and stop producing glucose in order to cleanse the body of the alcohol. Therefore, drinking on an empty stomach is not recommended.

Drinking just one alcoholic drink can impair judgment enough to make a critical mistake in diabetes management. Diabetics should make sure that there is someone with them who knows what to watch for should a low blood sugar reaction occurs. Hypoglycemic episodes can be easily confused with being tipsy. Remember hypoglycemia can happen some hours after a drinking session.

A bracelet, necklace or identification card stating medical conditions should be worn at all times and glucose tablets should be kept nearby also. It is recommended that diabetics not take naps or fall asleep without having a snack or meal first and to check glucose levels first thing in the morning.

Keep to sensible drinking levels. Alternate an alcoholic drink with a low calorie mixer. Don’t drink on an empty stomach – enjoy a meal before or with your drink. You may need to eat a bigger, starchier meal before the party. Adjust your insulin before you drink.

Red, dry or medium-dry white wines are acceptable in moderation as are dry sherries and dry light beers, such as lagers and light ales; these are fermented with ‘low residual sugars’ and are perfect for moderate consumption. Hard liquors such as whiskey, gin or vodka can be mixed with sugar free or diet mixers.

Sweet wines, ports and sherries have high residual sugar contents, as do heavy and/or dark sweetened beers such as stout and porters. Wine coolers, hard liquors mixed with regular sodas and cocktails in general should be avoided by diabetics.