Alcohol and Diabetes

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol misuse is a risk factor for various health conditions such as liver diseases and heart issues. Alcohol contains many calories and can interact with some medications. Since it can affect your body’s sugar levels, it would be best to reduce or stop alcohol use if you have diabetes or other related health issues.

Diabetes is a chronic illness that can adversely affect your health. Keep reading to learn more about the effects of alcohol on diabetes and the signs of alcohol abuse.

What Is Alcohol?

Alcohol

Made by fermenting sugars, carbohydrates, and yeast, alcohol is a psychoactive drink with dependence-inducing properties. The WHO reports alcohol as the causal factor for hundreds of diseases and other health issues. Beer and wine account for the lion’s share of alcoholic beverages consumed in the United States, but spirits like cocktails and liquor are also popular.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and the most regularly consumed drug in the world. Light drinking can quickly escalate to regular heavy alcohol consumption, which increases the risk of addiction and other health problems. Over 85% of American adults have consumed alcohol, and the CDC reports that one in six adults binge drink.

Alcohol abusers may exhibit intoxication symptoms or suffer withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to cut back or stop drinking. One is said to be intoxicated if they have consumed enough alcohol to impair their judgment. When an alcoholic cuts back on drinking, a series of physical and psychological symptoms known as withdrawal set in. Common signs and symptoms are excessive perspiration, trembling, nausea, vomiting, sleeplessness, and nervousness. Seizures are another possible adverse effect of withdrawal.

How Alcohol Affects the Body

Your liver’s primary role is glycogen storage to meet the body’s energy demands. The liver releases glucose or sugar when you sleep and between meals. This glucose enters the bloodstream and helps prevent or limit low blood sugar reactions.

Alcohol disrupts this metabolic process, preventing the liver from generating new glucose. When intoxicated, your body has to focus on eliminating alcohol from your blood rather than regulating blood sugar levels. The reduced glucose secretion leads to low blood sugar levels and can cause varying issues.

Can Alcohol Cause Diabetes?

Although alcohol doesn’t cause diabetes, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) states that acute alcohol consumption can increase the risk of diabetes and diabetes complications.

What Is Diabetes?

diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic health problem that affects the blood sugar levels in the body. The pancreas usually responds to rising blood glucose levels by secreting insulin, which the body uses to convert glucose into energy at the cellular level. However, people with diabetes either do not produce enough insulin or are unable to effectively use the insulin they produce, leading to high glucose levels and a host of potential health complications.

Over 37 million Americans have diabetes, and 20% of these people are unaware they have it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

Types of Diabetes

There are various forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is characterized by severe insulin shortage due to the destruction of the pancreatic cells responsible for producing the hormone. Although many people with Type 1 diabetes are diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, the disease can strike people of any age. Hereditary and environmental variables have a role in the onset of Type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetics are insulin-dependent and can quickly develop life-threatening complications if their disease is not correctly diagnosed and managed. Signs of Type 1 diabetes include:

  • Frequent urination.
  • Increased hunger and thirst.
  • Blurry vision.
  • Fatigue.
  • Reduced body weight.

 

People with Type 2 diabetes don’t produce enough insulin, or their tissues can’t use insulin effectively to convert blood sugar into energy. Type 2 diabetes can develop at any age but typically occurs in middle-aged people or older. Being over the healthy weight range or obese, failure to be physically active, and genetic factors increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Sometimes, symptoms of type 2 diabetes overlap with those of Type 1. Issues with wound healing and numbness or tingling in the extremities (peripheral neuropathy) are common in people with Type 2 diabetes mellitus. This is because of the detrimental effect that high blood sugar levels have on the small blood vessels. Since these symptoms can develop gradually, people may not realize they are diabetics until the signs worsen or they experience complications such as heart disease or vision issues.

Gestational diabetes is another type of disease that can affect pregnant women who have never had diabetes. The serious risks associated with gestational diabetes necessitate constant medical attention for pregnant women with the condition. Gestational diabetes typically disappears after delivery, while it can persist in some women as Type 2 diabetes.

Effects of Alcohol on Diabetes and Blood Sugar

Alcohol and diabetes interact in various ways. While moderate drinking may raise blood sugar levels, excessive drinking can lower them to dangerously low levels, especially for those with Type 1 diabetes. Carbohydrates in beer and sweet wine may raise blood sugar levels.

Alcohol may increase appetite, leading to overeating and impacting your ability to control your blood sugar levels. Alcoholic beverages usually have a lot of calories, making weight loss more challenging. Drinking too much alcohol may also impair your judgment or willpower, leading you to make bad dietary decisions. This drug can counteract the beneficial effects of insulin or oral diabetic medications.

Alcohol can increase triglyceride levels and blood pressure, disrupting metabolic processes and increasing the risk of severe health consequences. These might be mistaken for or conceal signs of low blood sugar.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Heavy drinking can increase the risk of ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis is a potentially fatal diabetic condition. Type 2 diabetes is characterized by high levels of acids called ketone bodies. This type of diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin to allow blood sugar into the cells for use as energy.

Because of an energy and insulin shortage, the liver can convert circulating fatty acid molecules into an excessive amount of ketones. This increase in ketone bodies causes serious health effects. Symptoms of ketoacidosis include an increased need to urinate, rapid or deep breathing, and abdominal pain.

Lipid Metabolism Alterations

Alcohol consumption can worsen diabetes-related lipid abnormalities. For example, alcohol intake is linked to elevated triglyceride levels, decreased low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and increased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.

Hypertriglyceridemia increases the danger of heart disease and pancreatitis. Pancreatic inflammation can hinder insulin production, causing discomfort and making it harder for persons with diabetes to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

Cardiovascular Disease

Those with Type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Moderate to moderate alcohol use is associated with an increased risk of hypertension and heart disease.

Other complications from alcohol use in people with diabetes are retinopathy and neuropathy.

Can Diabetics Drink Alcohol?

Depending on how much alcohol you drink, alcoholic drinks can raise or lower your blood glucose levels. Oral diabetes medicines, such as sulfonylureas and meglitinides, stimulate the pancreas to produce more insulin, which reduces blood glucose levels. Mixing alcohol and such drugs can cause hypoglycemia or insulin shock, a medical emergency.

Before drinking alcohol, check with your doctor to be sure there won’t be any negative interactions with your prescription drugs or existing health problems. High blood triglycerides, diabetic nerve damage, and diabetic eye disease are some of the other health problems caused by alcohol consumption when suffering from diabetes.

If your doctor gives you the green light to have a drink, consume no more than two servings of alcohol a day if you are male or one drink if you are female. One alcohol serving is the same as 12 beer ounces, 5 wine ounces, or 1-1/2 ounces of distilled spirits.

When to Avoid Drinking Alcohol

Most people can enjoy one or two drinks socially without any ill effects. However, it is best to abstain from drinking when suffering from diabetes.

Drinking alcohol can worsen signs of diabetes, so avoid alcohol if  you have any of the symptoms below:

  • If you have nerve damage highlighted by pain or tingling in your hands and feet.
  • Diabetic retinopathy or damage to eyes.
  • Untreated high blood pressure.
  • High triglyceride levels.
  • Kidney disease.

 

Drinking alcohol increases the risk of hypertension. Hypertension is a significant contributor to renal failure and strokes. The effects of alcohol can be detrimental to drugs that lower blood pressure.

The Risks of Low Blood Sugar and Alcohol

Risks of Low Blood Sugar and Alcohol

Drinking alcohol can increase the risk of low blood glucose even if you practice diabetes disease control with diet and exercise only. Even more severe intense blood sugar reactions can occur in people who use insulin or other diabetic medicines that boost insulin secretion and consume alcohol.

The liver secretes glucose to maintain normal blood sugar levels. If you consume alcohol on an empty stomach, you may experience low blood sugar.

It takes the liver around an hour and a half to metabolize each alcoholic beverage. During that period, hypoglycemia can develop. The risk of hypoglycemia increases to 2-3 hours if you consume two alcoholic drinks. More alcohol means a greater chance of dangerously low blood sugar.

Safety Tips for Drinking in a Healthy Manner

Never drink alcohol when your stomach is empty. Always consume alcoholic drinks with a carb-based meal or snack. Other tips to help you drink safely include:

  • Learn the symptoms of low blood sugar.
  • Always wear a medical ID bracelet.
  • Carry a carbohydrate source such as glucose tablets.
  • Never skip meals.
  • Test your blood sugar level regularly.
  • Drink slowly.
  • Knowing your limit may save your life.
  • Stay hydrated.

 

Alcohol has a lot of empty calories and very few nutrients. The liver converts the calories in alcohol to fat, so consuming alcoholic beverages can lead to a weight increase. Increased triglyceride levels in the blood are another risk factor for cardiovascular disease caused by alcohol consumption.

Are You Concerned About Your Drinking Habits?

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