A very common question is asked by people with diabetes – If I drink alcohol will it lower my blood sugars?
It depends a lot on how much alcohol one drinks.
Some people who have diabetes can safely drink moderate amounts of alcohol, but for others any amount of alcohol intake can have very negative health consequences.
Alcohol has a different effect in different people. Drinks such as Beer, some wines, and Alco Pops contain carbohydrates, and will make blood sugars go up while you’re drinking, but generally blood sugar will drop later.
The reason blood sugars drop later is due to the liver not being able to produce glucose (glycogen) that the body needs when blood sugars are low because it’s too busy processing the alcohol.
The liver is not very good at multi-tasking.
When blood sugar levels drop, the liver usually begins to produce glucose from stored carbohydrates to compensate. But drinking alcohol blocks the liver’s ability to do this.
The liver treats alcohol as a toxin and works to rid the body of alcohol as quickly as possible. The liver will not produce glucose again until the alcohol has been processed and cleared from the body.
Normally, if you haven’t eaten for a while, your body uses its liver stores of glucose (glycogen) for energy. In addition, alcohol can increase or prolong the action of your insulin or oral agents. In fact, the glucose-lowering action of alcohol can last 8 to 12 hours after you had your last drink.
Delayed low blood sugars (hypoglycemia) may occur up to 16 hours after heavy drinking. So if you overdo it, keep your blood glucose levels topped up with carbohydrate. After drinking, make sure you have carbohydrate before you go to bed and at breakfast, and monitor your blood glucose levels closely.
Exercise can also decrease blood sugar levels — because the liver takes glucose from the blood and sends it to the muscles — drinking immediately following exercise is likely to accelerate the blood sugar dropping process.
Spirits, which have a high alcohol concentration and little carbohydrate, can drive blood sugar levels down quickly and profoundly, especially when taken on an empty stomach.
The same advice applies to anyone whether they have diabetes or not – It’s not a good idea to drink alcohol on an empty stomach as the alcohol will be absorbed into your blood stream too quickly
Drinking for example a few beers will cause the blood sugar to go up a bit at first, although the overall effect will be for it to go down, so you need to eat before you drink, while you are drinking and afterwards. Having a couple of bags of crisps with your drinks and some cereal or toast when you get home isn’t any different from what your friends will be doing. Alcohol puts their blood sugars down too so they’ll be hungry as well.
Drinking 1 bottle of beer with your meal should be counted as part of the meal’s total carbs, and shouldn’t do anything towards lowering blood sugars.