Alcohol is everywhere — at family gatherings, festivals and of course, parties. If you are a diabetic , you need to understand the effects of drinking alcohol before you decide to indulge or abstain. Recent studies have shown that insulin resistance is minimal in individuals with regular mild to moderate alcohol consumption and increases with heavy drinking. So drinking moderately, along with a snack, is safe and has little effect on your blood sugar post meals. However, heavy or continuous alcohol intake can lead to glucose intolerance, hypertension, liver cirrhosis and nerve damage.
Moderate drinking usually implies an average intake of 4-5 drinks per week. But having one drink a day has a different effect on your health than downing five drinks at one go. Alcohol moves quickly into the blood stream without being metabolised in your stomach within five minutes of having a drink. But it’s only 30 to 90 minutes after having a drink that the alcohol level reaches its peak and causes potential complications.
The effects of alcohol
If you have diabetes and take insulin shots or oral diabetes pills, your risk of low blood sugar level increases after having a drink. Normally, when the glucose level in your blood starts to drop, your liver steps in and converts the stored carbohydrate into glucose. However, when alcohol enters a diabetic system, the liver does not respond to low blood glucose levels in a rush to flush out alcohol out of the system.
The risk of low blood glucose also arises when you mix alcohol and exercise. In order to meet the extra energy needs during exercise, the liver clears the glucose from your blood and adds it to the muscles’ store. So having a few mugs of beer just after an intense workout may lower your blood sugar.
An occasional drink most definitely hampers your weight loss regime. Two light beers equal nearly 300 extra (empty) calories!
If you have diabetic neuropathy — diabetes-related nervous problems — in your arms or legs or suffer from diabetes-related eye trouble, drinking can make it worse.
Since alcohol affects the way your liver clears fat from the blood, even light drinking raises triglycerides (or fatty acids) and uric acid levels in hypertensive diabetics.
Alcohol may stimulate your appetite leading to overeating, which in turn may adversely affect your blood sugar control.
What to drink
Select drinks that are lower in total alcohol and sugar content. Choose sugar-free mixers like diet soft drinks, soda, lime juice, or plain water in your drinks. Avoid sugary mixed drinks, fruit juices, sweet wines, tonic water or cordials.
Opt for light beer and dry wines that have less alcohol content and carbohydrates.
Make sure you drink along with food. Check your blood sugar before you go to sleep and eat a snack at bedtime to avoid low blood sugar while you sleep.
Limit yourself to one drink if you’re a woman or two if you’re a man. Sip slowly. Do not drink more than two glasses of alcohol in a week.
Alcohol dehydrates your system, so make sure you drink at least 10-12 glasses of water the next day to rehydrate.
Check with your physician if it is safe to mix alcohol with your particular combination of diabetes medications.
Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre