The connection between type 2 diabetes and alcohol is quite complex. When people with diabetes drink alcohol, it comes at considerable risk, but it does not mean people with diabetes cannot drink alcohol. The risk depends on the type of alcohol and the amount a person decides to consume.
Type 2 diabetes is more common than ever before. According to the National Diabetes Statistics Report 2020, around 34.2 million in the US have diabetes, and the numbers continue to increase thanks to lifestyle changes and the choice in the food we eat every day.
It is important to note that only heavy alcohol consumption can raise the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Alcohol consumption also leads to unpredictable blood sugar levels, which can be a huge risk to people with diabetes.
Can Alcohol Consumption Cause Diabetes?
Alcohol alone cannot cause diabetes, but zero and heavy consumption increase the risk. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), one drink or two can improve sugar management and insulin sensitivity.
Further studies show that moderate alcohol consumption of alcohol offers protection against some conditions in Asian populations and women, while heavy consumption raises the risk of developing diabetes.
Should People Living With Diabetes Drink Alcohol?
The American Diabetes Association allows people living with diabetes from consuming alcohol, but it does not advocate for it either. If you choose to drink alcohol, you should limit your consumption to moderate intake. This means up to two drinks daily for men and one drink per day for women. However, if a person with diabetes does not already drink alcohol, it does not mean they should start.
Taking alcohol with diabetes has detrimental effects on the health of a person. These effects include:
- It affects blood sugar control: Taking more than three drinks raises blood sugar levels.
- Make blood glucose levels unpredictable: Alcohol affects the body’s ability to interact with medication and other factors, which may lead to unpredictable blood glucose levels.
- Increased risk of diabetes complications: Heavy alcohol consumption increases the risk of complications associated with diabetes. These include high blood pressure, heart disease, eye problems and nerve damage.
- Alcohol consumption promotes weight gain: Calories from alcohol tend to add up and cause weight gain, a risk factor for diabetes.
- Doctors will advise some people with diabetes to avoid alcohol for reasons unrelated to blood sugar levels. Patients with diabetes tend to have other conditions that alcohol could affect. The bottom line is if you are a person living with diabetes, ensure you consult with your doctor first before you start taking alcohol.
What Types Of Alcohol Should A Person With Diabetes Take?
Here is some critical information to help you adhere to the one drink per day for women and the two drinks per day for men. These are the measurements for the standard drink:
- One 12-oz beer
- 5 ounces of wine
- 5 ounces of 80-proof spirits like gin, rum and vodka
- 8 ounces of malt liquor
While calculating the amount of alcohol that you should consume while following the recommended guidelines, you should know that standard alcoholic beverages contain more than one serving of a drink. For instance:
- A 40-oz regular beer contains over three servings.
- A martini contains 1.4 servings.
- A 40-oz malt liquor contains five servings.
- A Long Island iced tea contains four servings.
Additionally, if you have diabetes, you should avoid sweetened liquor or alcohol mixed with punch or soda.
What Is the Connection Between Alcohol and Hypoglycemia?
One of the biggest concerns for a person with diabetes and alcohol is low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is when a person’s blood sugar falls below the recommended 70 mg/dl. Heavy alcohol consumption can cause a decrease in blood sugar levels hence causing hypoglycemia.
This occurs because the liver stores carbohydrates and releases them in sugar between meals, stabilizing the blood sugar levels. The liver is also responsible for breaking down the alcohol for the kidney to flash it out, but it cannot do both simultaneously. This is the main reason why experts advise patients with diabetes to stay away from alcohol with they already have low blood sugar levels.