The Science of Drinking: How Alcohol Affects Your Body and Mind
There are three main ways drinking alcohol to excess can be a factor in causing diabetes:
1.Heavy drinking can reduce the body’s sensitivity to insulin, which can trigger type 2 diabetes .
2.Diabetes is a common side effect of chronic pancreatitis, which is overwhelmingly caused by heavy drinking.
3.Alcohol contains a huge amount of calories – one pint of lager can be equivalent to a slice of pizza. So drinking can also increase your chance of becoming overweight and your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Low levels of alcohol could potentially provide some level of protection against developing Type 2 diabetes.
According to a review of 15 studies into the link between diabetes and alcohol, ‘moderate drinkers’ (who drank between one and six units per day) were a third less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than either people who didn’t drink alcohol or those who drank heavily.
This is thought to be because low to moderate levels of alcohol actually make the body more sensitive to insulin
How Alcohol Affects Diabetes
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When someone has diabetes, more of the glucose in their body stays in their blood – it isn’t being used as fuel for energy. The body tries to reduce blood glucose levels by flushing the excess glucose out of the body into their urine.
Patients on insulin treatment for diabetes can develop abnormally low blood sugar levels. This is known as hypoglycaemia. Symptoms of hypoglycaemia include:
Hypoglycaemia can be particularly dangerous when you’re drinking because people can mistakenly think that you’re drunk and may not realise you need urgent medical help.
Drinking heavily can also increase the chances of developing hypoglycaemia because it prevents the liver from making glucose when you drink on an empty stomach .
For example, the risk of hypoglycaemia would increase the morning after you’ve slept following heavy drinking.
If you have nerve damage as a result of diabetes, drinking alcohol can make it worse and increase the pain, tingling, numbness and other symptoms .
Here are some other ways that alcohol can affect diabetes:
1.While moderate amounts of alcohol can cause blood sugar to rise, excess alcohol can actually decrease your blood sugar level — sometimes causing it to drop into dangerous levels.
Within a few minutes of drinking alcohol, and for up to 12 hours afterward, alcohol can cause your blood glucose level to drop. After consuming alcohol, always check your blood glucose level to make sure it is in the safe zone. If your blood glucose is below 100 mg/dL, eat a snack to bring it up.
2.Beer and sweet wine contain carbohydrates and may raise blood sugar.
Always test blood sugar before having an alcoholic beverage.
Alcohol impairs your liver’s ability to produce glucose, so be sure to know your blood glucose number before you drink an alcoholic beverage.
3.Alcohol stimulates your appetite, which can cause you to overeat and may affect your blood sugar control.
Alcohol prevents your liver from doing its job.
When you drink alcohol, your liver has to work to remove it from your blood instead of working to regulate blood sugar. For this reason, you should never drink alcohol when your blood glucose is already low.
4.Alcohol may also affect your judgment or willpower, causing you to make poor food choices.
Weight gain and obesity are risk factors in the development of diabetes and also have a negative impact on controlling the disease.
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5.Alcohol can interfere with the positive effects of oral diabetes medicines or insulin.
Alcohol can cause blood glucose levels to rise or fall, depending on how much you drink. Some diabetes pills (including sulfonylureas and meglitinides) also lower blood glucose levels by stimulating the pancreas to make more insulin.
Combining the blood-sugar-lowering effects of the medication with alcohol can lead to hypoglycemia or “insulin shock,” which is a medical emergency.
6.Alcohol may increase triglyceride levels.
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People with too much LDL (“bad”) cholesterol or triglycerides in their bloodstreams can develop substantially increased risks for serious forms of heart disease.
In a study a team of researchers looked at the connection between LDL and triglyceride levels and occasional or habitual heavy consumption of alcohol.
These researchers found that even occasional heavy drinking can significantly boost the presence of these blood-borne fats.
Heavy drinkers exceed the commonly accepted public health recommendations for moderate alcohol consumption, which set limits on both daily and weekly intake for men and women.
The average man transitions from moderate to excessive drinking when he consumes five drinks or more in one day or 15 drinks or more in one week.
The average woman makes the same transition when she consumes four drinks or more in one day or eight drinks or more in one week.
7.Alcohol may increase blood pressure.
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Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure to unhealthy levels. Having more than three drinks in one sitting temporarily increases your blood pressure, but repeated binge drinking can lead to long-term increases.
Heavy drinkers who cut back to moderate drinking can lower their systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) by 2 to 4 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and their diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number in a blood pressure reading) by 1 to 2 mm Hg.
Heavy drinkers who want to lower blood pressure should slowly reduce how much they drink over one to two weeks. Heavy drinkers who stop suddenly risk developing severe high blood pressure for several days.
What Are The Alcohol Guidelines For Diabetics?
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Doctors usually advise diabetics that they can safely drink alcohol in moderation.
So, if you have diabetes and drink, it’s particularly important to stay within the government’s lower risk guidelines.
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Staying in control Of Your Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol is unlike carbohydrate, protein, and fat. However, alcohol is metabolized, or handled, by the body in a manner similar to fat.
This means that calories from alcohol can easily be stored as fat unless you burn them off.
Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram; fat contains 9 calories per gram, and carb and protein contain 4 calories per gram.
So alcohol is a prime source of calories.
If you’re trying to lose or maintain your weight, you need to think about this carefully.
An occasional glass of wine isn’t a problem. But if you tend to have a glass of wine every night, you need to consider that 4 ounces of wine contains about 90 calories. Over time, this can add up.
You may want to cut down on alcohol and avoid that spare tire around your waist.
Here are some ways you can cut back:
1. Eat well.
A healthy meal before you start drinking, and snacks between drinks can help to slow down the absorption of alcohol. It’s particularly important if you’re diabetic. Alcohol lowers blood sugar levels, so eat plenty of food, preferably carbohydrates, to make sure blood sugar levels stay steady.
2. Keep track of what you’re drinking.
As well as noting how many units you are drinking,you should note how many calories you’re consuming too . It’s a great way to watch your units and your weight.
3. Know your strength.
Alcoholic drinks labels will have the abbreviation “ABV” which stands for Alcohol By Volume, or sometimes just the word “vol”. It shows the percentage of your drink that’s pure alcohol.
This can vary a lot. For example, some ales are 3.5%, some stronger lagers can be as much as 6% ABV.
This means that just one pint of strong lager can be more than three units of alcohol, so you need to keep your eye on what you’re drinking.
4.Strategies for drinking less at home
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If you’re pouring your own drinks at home, it’s easy to drink more alcohol than you realise. Here are some tips to help you keep track:
If you drink wine at home, pour small amounts into your glass.
If you fill glasses to the rim, you’ll drink more than you realise. Opt for small 125ml glasses too.
Measure your spirits instead of free pouring them.
Try and pour your own drinks. If your partner or your host is constantly topping up your half-filled glass, it’s hard to keep track of how much alcohol you are drinking.
5.Strategies for drinking less out and about
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Use the smartphone drink tracking tool. It’s simple to use.
Ask for a small glass of wine. A 125ml glass is around one and a half units of alcohol.
Drink spritzers if you like wine, or pints of shandy if you’re a lager drinker. You’ll still get a large drink, but one that contains less alcohol.
Opt for half pints if you prefer higher strength lager or try lower strength beer. You really won’t notice the difference.
Alternate alcoholic drinks with bottled mineral water or diet soft drinks.
Ask questions. If you are still uncertain about how much you are drinking, ask the bar staff. Do they pour doubles or singles? How big is their large glass of wine?
6.Cutting down together
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How with a little bit of team work you could both be drinking less and enjoying an even better relationship.
How many times have you filled your partner’s wine glass without asking? Or maybe they regularly have a large glass of red or a beer waiting for you when you get home from work?
These might be meant as nice gestures, but you could be encouraging each other to drink more than you would really like.
Working together, you can cut back on your alcohol intake.
When you live with your partner it’s easy to adopt each other’s habits, without even realising.
It’s important to look for the ‘triggers’ that bring on your habits: “The obvious one for drinking is having a hard day at work. Many people associate alcohol with pleasure and relaxation.”
Triggers can be as simple as time and place. “You get home from work and it’s 6.30pm. It’s time to relax and eat, and that’s when your thoughts might turn to that first drink.”
As your behaviours become shared habits, such as splitting a bottle of wine in front of your favourite TV programme, they become harder to change.
You reinforce each other’s behaviour.
One of you might say you don’t feel like wine that evening, but if the other persuades you with a gentle ‘go on’, your resistance can easily cave in.
8.Cut down on drinking: how to help each other
If you’re going to cut down on your drinking, it’s important that both partners really buy into the change.
There’s less likely to be friction or resistance if you decide to do this together.
One of the reasons we automatically say ‘yes’ to another drink, even though we’d intended to stop for the evening, is we don’t have a concrete plan or an alternative course of action.
With your partner, think about situations when you might be tempted to drink more than the government’s lower risk guidelines.
Talk about how you can avoid those situations, and what you can do instead.
Maybe you always get through a bottle of wine when you have your weekly takeaway.
If you know you’re going to order one, decide together to avoid the off licence on the way home from work.
9.Do something different
If you’ve formed habits that involve drinking, you’ll need some alternative things to do to help you cut down.
If that time happens to be when you both settle in front of the TV for the evening, try extending your meal with a healthy dessert such as fresh fruit or a hot drink.
Or get into the habit of heading out to do something together after dinner, even if it’s just a walk.
Making changes to your routine can be a great way to discover new, shared interests.
10.Encourage each other
If one of you is starting to lapse, that’s when the other’s support is more important than ever.
Language you use to discuss changes to your drinking can make a big difference – encourage your partner to stick to their goals, rather than demanding they do so.
Instead of ‘You must do this’ or ‘You need to do that’, try highlighting the advantages of drinking less.
Point out what you’re both gaining by making changes.
11.Treat each other
Instead of drinking every time you eat together, save the wine for a special candlelit dinner.
When you do drink, don’t feel you have to finish the bottle.
Take it in turns to bring home a treat instead of a bottle of wine – a good DVD, or ingredients for that special dinner you can cook together.
12.Cut down on alcohol together: feel the benefits
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Working together towards a goal, and supporting your partner to achieve something in itself, is something really positive.
Make an effort to notice how you feel.
Maybe you’re fresher in the morning after a better night’s sleep, or are generally healthier and more energetic. Feeling less tired can help keep petty arguments at bay.
Tell each other about the positive changes you’re seeing, such as weight loss. This will help you stick to your goals.
Alcohol is a depressant. It might make you feel happy at first. But the overall effect of too much alcohol is to suppress the hormones that make you feel happy.
In summary, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to alcohol. For some people, the safest and smartest approach to take is to not drink any alcohol. For others, the goal is to learn how to fit alcohol into your diabetes treatment plan safely—ask your health-care team if you’re not sure.
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9 thoughts on “How Alcohol Affects Diabetes”
Wow, I had no idea that alcohol had anything whatsoever to do with diabetes. I just got married last month and my husband is a Type 1 Diabetic. I’ve been dating him a little more than two years, and in that time I’ve done a ton of reading about diabetes. I focus mostly on diet – since I love to cook for him, I like to make sure the meals I make are diabetic-friendly. He also has celiac sprue which makes things even more complicated. Thanks for the info on alcohol – luckily, he’s not a big drinker – good thing, since alcohol isn’t good when it comes to diabetes!
Your husband is very lucky to have married someone who takes care of him so well and is well educated in diabetes.
It sounds like he manages his type 1 diabetes well with your help and only drinks occasionally .
Wishing you both a happy healthy married life!
I agree with you some diabetes problem could be directly linked to heavy drinking. I know a guy who has developed diabetes that way. He was a heavy drinker, beside the fact that he doesn’t spit on a nice looking dessert. But when he was diagnosed by his doctor for that condition and that the doctor told him it was mostly due to alcohol and if he doesn’t stop drinking the way he does he would die, it was a shock for him. But he eventually resolved quiting drinking. The only thing he still have problem with is… dessert!
Great news that your friend has stopped drinking.
Studies have shown that alcohol interferes with all three sources of glucose and the hormones needed to maintain healthy blood glucose levels.
Drinking alcohol decreases the effectiveness of the insulin in your body, which means your blood sugar levels go haywire, leading to insulin resistance and diabetes.
According to one study: 45% to 70% of people with alcoholic liver disease had either glucose intolerance or diabetes.
So it goes without saying, by your friend cutting out all alcohol, he is letting his body regulate his blood sugar properly and stop putting himself at greater risk for insulin resistance.
Very enlightening post and i wasn’t aware that moderate levels of drinking can actually help prevent Type 2 diabetes. I think your point about drinking beer which can lead to weight gain and perhaps diabetes is right on. Gaining weight is such an incredible health threat and it’s still relatively ignored compared to other known health threats. But it’s something we all need to pay attention to because diabetes is a very serious disease.
Beer, wine and sugary alcoholic beverages are very high in calories.
Also alcohol itself has about 7 calories per gram, which is high.When it comes to weight management, one of the easiest things many people can do to cut back on calories is to drink less alcohol or give it up altogether.
Studies show that people who drink the most are more likely to be overweight and people who drink the least (or not at all) are more likely to maintain a trim, healthy weight.
Alcohol does not sound like something diabetics should even consider doing, there seems to be many health risks with drinking when a diabetic.
Alcohol really is not healthy for anyone if you become addicted and over drink often, it makes you wonder why is alcohol and smoking which both are not healthy are legal to do?
The body treats alcohol as a drug, not as a food product. This means that, when you drink any type of alcoholic beverage, your liver kicks into high gear, preparing itself to detoxify the body.
Your liver is a big reserve of sugar, and throughout the day and night, it normally releases glucose .But when alcohol is present it switches focus to clearing alcohol from your bloodstream and forgets all about releasing glucose.
Each alcoholic beverage takes between 1 to 1.5 hours to process through the liver. During that entire time, your risk for lows is increased.
Alcohol can also interact with some medications that are prescribed to people with diabetes.
Beyond the serious health consequences, the harmful use of alcohol brings significant social and economic losses to individuals and society.
Therefore its clear that while drinking alcohol is an individual choice,High levels of alcohol consumption has an impact on all of us, regardless of our personal relationship with alcohol.
Always remember there are many health risks for diabetics when you drink alcohol especially when you drink to excess!