With the holidays upon us, you're probably not thinking twice about indulging in an alcoholic beverage here and there. And for most of us, there’s nothing wrong with that! However, if you suffer from health conditions, you may need to be a little more cautious about how much alcohol you’re drinking.
For people with diabetes or those trying to control and regulate their blood glucose, alcohol consumption can pose a bit of a risk. This is because alcohol affects blood sugar levels and can also impair the efficacy of certain medications. If you don't stop to consider the effect every glass of alcohol has on your body, it's likely because you don’t have a health condition that compels you to. But if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes or know you’re prediabetic, you may need to pay more attention.
Studies have shown that alcohol can affect those with diabetes in dramatically different ways. People with diabetes who have a consistent, healthy diet find that drinking alcohol may result in extremely high blood sugar levels. People with diabetes who do not have a healthy, balanced diet may find that alcohol consumption results in very low blood sugar levels. Heavy drinking can also cause certain acids to accumulate in the bloodstream of those with diabetes.
Interestingly, how alcohol affects your blood sugar levels also depends on whether or not you have recently eaten. A study conducted on these two states while drinking found that participants who had eaten saw higher blood sugar levels. Those who hadn’t eaten or were in fasting states were at a higher risk of experiencing hypoglycemia. Wondering how alcohol affects you and how you might be able to safely indulge every once in a while? Read on to find out.
To understand how alcohol impacts glucose, it’s essential to first understand the liver’s role in maintaining stable glucose levels. The liver plays a huge role in blood sugar circulation and control. Your liver is actually a storage place for glucose and helps your system keep your body’s fuel levels stable.
Not only does your liver store glucose for when your body requires it, but it can create glucose through a process called glycogenolysis. Glycogenolysis is when your liver takes glycogen and turns it into glucose. It can also make glucose by using amino acids, fat, and waste which is called gluconeogenesis.
When you consume alcohol, your blood sugar levels may drop because you’re inhibiting your liver’s ability to release glucose from its storage or create more. Initially, alcohol can often lead to a spike in your sugar levels, which your body will race to process and may metabolize too quickly. This is why your blood sugar may actually drop when consuming alcohol [this is without factoring in sugary mixers, of course]. While your body struggles with the spike that alcohol sends to your liver, it cannot release glucose properly because it is, simply put, overwhelmed.
Different types of alcohol factor in as well. Beer, which is very carb-heavy, causes more immediate and more drastic spikes in glucose levels. Sugary cocktails can be glucose bombs. Sweeter wines are also known to cause spikes. However, liquor on its own and some types of dryer wines may affect the liver differently and result in glucose drops, or no drop or spike at all!
The impact of alcohol may last more than just in the moment, with ranges changing up to 12 hours after drinking. The initial spike and/or dip in blood sugar can occur over one or two hours after consuming the beverage, but the effect can last much longer. Because the body has no storage space for alcohol, alcohol is oxidated first. This means that anything consumed with that alcohol drink will be put “on the back burner,” so to speak, causing ongoing changes in glucose. This can mean higher values the entire night and into the next day after drinking for many people.
Responses to alcohol can differ from person to person, and it’s an interesting idea to experiment a little bit to see how your body responds to different types. But if you have diabetes, you may not want to make any drastic changes without consulting your doctor. In the meantime, here are a few other effects alcohol can have on your body and your blood glucose levels.
Alcohol doesn’t just affect your liver; it can affect your other organs too. Here’s just a few ways it can do this:
Managing your blood glucose levels is a good idea no matter what food and drink choices you make. NutriSense helps you monitor and track blood glucose levels using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) that measures your glucose levels 24/7. And while people with diabetes have been using CGMs for years, the CDC recommends checking your glucose levels even if you’re not showing symptoms.
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