Unfortunately, drinking alcohol when you have diabetes is a little tricky. Alcohol is processed very similarly to the way in which fat is processed, and is also quite high in calories. Therefore your blood sugar levels can rise quite high, which makes things difficult if you also have diabetes. However, excessive amounts of alcohol can actually cause your blood sugar levels to drop, even to dangerous levels, so be careful of this fact as well. Indeed, low blood glucose levels (hypoglycemia) can occur up to 24 hours after drinking alcohol. Morning hypoglycemia can affect you if you have type 1 diabetes and consume alcohol 2 to 3 hours after your previous evening's meal.
Essentially, you should certainly avoid alcohol if you are diabetic and:
- have nerve damage in your arms or legs
- have eye disease related to your diabetes
- have high blood pressure
- are pregnant or breastfeeding
- have a personal or family history of alcohol abuse
Your doctor would be a good person to talk to about whether or not alcohol would be a possible choice. If you are given the green light, do make sure that you eat a meal while consuming anything alcoholic, especially one that is rich in carbohydrates. However, be cautious with the amount you're eating, as alcohol can stimulate your appetite and cause you to overeat, affecting your blood sugar levels.
Limit yourself to no more than 2 drinks in a single occasion. When you drink alcohol, it moves into your bloodstream without being metabolized by your stomach. This means that it has to circulate in your blood until it reaches your liver, where it will finally be broken down. Drinking too much alcohol, therefore, interferes with the work that your liver has to do to help regulate your blood sugar levels. Also, be aware that glucagon (which normally helps with low blood glucose levels) will not work while there is alcohol in your body.
So go ahead and have a drink, but be wary. Make sure that you wear your identification bracelet, and that you're with a friend who is aware of your diabetes and the potential symptoms that might present with low blood sugar levels. And make sure that they know to call an ambulance if you pass out while drinking. Finally, check your blood glucose before going to bed. Eat something if it's low, and make sure that you set an alarm to ensure that you don't experience delayed low blood glucose.
Your body is not the same as it once might have been, so treat it accordingly. If you do this, you'll likely have a much longer and healthier life, and you'll probably enjoy it that much more too!
By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner
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