Diabetes and alcohol.

How Drinking Alcohol Affects Diabetes

People living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes know how crucial it is to keep their blood sugar levels in check. Additionally, part of living a healthy lifestyle is to be acutely aware of how foods and beverages impact our bodies, especially when living with a health condition. Alcohol can have dramatic effects on blood sugar and liver function, which is why it’s important to understand how drinking interacts with certain health conditions like diabetes. While the impact of alcohol on diabetes is multi-faceted, we’ve compiled five key takeaways that people living with diabetes should know.

1. How Alcohol Affects Blood Sugar Levels

Sugar carried to your bloodstream is referred to as blood glucose or blood sugar. What we consume daily affects the amount of blood sugar measured in our bodies. Foods and beverages with high sugar content translate to more glucose in the bloodstream. 

How alcohol affects diabetes. Due to its sugar and carbohydrate content, alcohol profoundly affects our blood glucose levels. Moderate consumption typically causes glucose levels to rise. However, excessive consumption, especially for people with type 1 diabetes, can have the opposite effect and actually drop blood sugar levels. Beer, wine, and liquor can also impede liver function responsible for regulating blood glucose levels throughout the day, which can surface health concerns for some diabetics. 

2. How Alcohol Interacts with Diabetes Medications

As with any prescription, it’s essential to talk with your doctor about how a medication may interact with what you drink. Consuming alcoholic beverages while taking some diabetes medications can also cause some negative side effects while potentially inhibiting their effectiveness. Interactions may include: 

  • Mixing alcohol and insulin can intensify the medication’s effects on your blood sugar levels, causing severe low blood glucose levels. Combining the two can also interrupt insulin’s ability to help regulate blood sugar, causing it to rise to unhealthy levels. 
  • Medications like sulfonylureas and meglitinides help lower blood sugar levels, but may intensify when combined with alcohol.
  • Metformin, when combined with heavy alcohol consumption, can increase the risk of lactic acidosis. While this disease is rare, it can be deadly if not treated properly.  

If you are taking any diabetes medications, remember to talk to your NWPC provider about potential risks and complications associated with drinking. 

3. Test Your Blood Sugar Levels Before and After Drinking

Because alcohol impacts your liver and can affect blood sugar levels, you should always test your blood glucose levels before consuming an alcoholic beverage. If your blood sugar levels are low, it might be best to abstain from a drink. If levels seem safe, it’s still imperative to check your blood sugar after an alcoholic beverage to understand its impact. Knowing your blood glucose number can help you make informed decisions around whether you should consume or not, so it’s imperative to monitor how your body responds to alcohol as you drink. 

4. Avoid Specific Types of Alcohol and Limit Drinking

Remember, moderation is crucial when managing your glucose levels. Beer, wine, and different types of hard liquor and cocktails all have unique effects on your blood sugar. Cocktails with higher sugar content – like drinks made with soda or simple syrup – can also quickly increase your blood sugar.

So, what alcohol can you drink if you have diabetes? A simple rule to follow is to avoid overly sugary drinks, like sweet wines and cordials, but the best way to know for sure is by visiting your NWPC practitioner to discuss the safest options specifically for you. 

5. Never Drink on an Empty Stomach

From the first sip, alcohol is present in your bloodstream. Food can help to decrease the alcohol absorption rate into the bloodstream. Drinking on a full stomach, or having a healthy snack before a cocktail, reduces the risks of your blood sugar dropping while helping your liver process sugars more effectively. Some of the best food choices for diabetics include: 

  • Leafy greens like kale, broccoli and spinach 
  • Whole grains like quinoa and brown rice 
  • Plant-based proteins sourced from beans or nuts
  • Eggs and low-fat dairy products 
  • Chicken or other low-fat poultry options  

Learn More About Alcohol and Diabetes at NWPC

Alcohol affects each person with diabetes differently, which is why talking with your health care provider about your medical history is crucial. If you are looking for advice and resources on managing your diabetes, or if alcohol is safe for you to drink, schedule an appointment with one of our practitioners at NWPC today. We offer Telehealth visits and in-person appointments for all your medical needs. 

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