Advice on Alcohol and Diabetes

Even though you have diabetes it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a beer or glass of wine. Alcohol actually lowers glucose levels—which, in moderation, is a good thing. Research also suggests drinking in moderation can improve blood pressure, HDL (good) cholesterol, and lower the risk of heart disease. But before you head out to happy hour for a drink, be aware of the effects of alcohol and which choices may be better. 

Effects on glucose

Any type of alcohol will lower blood glucose. Normally the liver produces some glucose. When you are drinking, the liver is busy breaking down alcohol and doesn’t release glucose. It is best to have a drink with a meal to avoid hypoglycemia, especially if you take insulin or take an oral medication with a risk of hypoglycemia. The effects of alcohol on glucose levels can last for several hours so it is always a good idea to test glucose before going to bed and eat a snack if necessary. Alcohol in excess (more than 3 drinks per day) on a regular basis can add to hyperglycemia and is not advised. 

Choose your drinks wisely

Drinking in moderation is defined as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. One drink is considered 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine, or 1.5 oz. of 80-proof liquor. Alcohol is high in calories, not carbohydrates, which are stored as fat. To save on calories, avoid sweetened drink mixes (margaritas, daiquiris, drinks mixed with juice or sodas). Choose wines or light beer and mix drinks with club soda, seltzer, or diet tonic water. 

Times to avoid alcohol

If your diabetes is not well controlled, it is best to avoid alcoholic drinks and focus on controlling your glucose levels. Alcohol can worsen nerve damage, diabetic eye disease, and high triglycerides. Also, alcohol in excess can cause high blood pressure – despite the fact that in moderation alcohol has actually been shown to slightly decrease blood pressure. And remember to be honest with your health care team about how much alcohol you drink and how often—it’s critical to your overall health and properly managing your diabetes. 

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