Being diagnosed with diabetes, regardless of your lifestyle or level of health can give you major anxiety. Suddenly, you’re told to eat foods you’ve never consumed, exercise regularly and take medication while continually testing your blood sugar. But, the learning curve is huge. The discipline is rigorous. You devote scrupulous attention and careful research to everything that enters your mouth.
Every year, there are tragic deaths from people who are unwilling to make the difficult transition from carefree living to careful monitoring. On January 4, 2010, Casey Johnson, heiress to the Johnson & Johnson fortune and a type 1 diabetic, died at the age of 30—a death which is likely linked to her alcohol abuse.
This moving fatality was hardly necessary. Johnson could have taken better care of herself and monitored the effect that alcohol had on her diabetes. According to Dr. David Kayne, a diabetologist and advisory board member, “The effect of alcohol on the diabetic is that it really is a crapshoot concerning which way the blood sugar will go.” That’s not a chance any diabetic should take. Read more about diabetes and alcohol here.
Why is Alcohol Such a Problem?
The problem is that alcohol contains two different and powerful ingredients, each has opposite effects on blood sugar. “Ethanol itself can lead to low blood sugars because it can block the liver’s ability to increase the blood sugar in a time of need,” according to Dr. Kayne. “On the other hand, the sugar in alcoholic beverages, particularly in beer and wine, can increase blood sugar.”
What Should a Person with Diabetes Do?
The key is to be aware of the differences among alcoholic beverages. Some kinds of alcohol will put sugar levels through the roof. These include wines, sherries, ports, beers, wine coolers, spirits with mixers, cocktails and many liquors. Other kinds of alcohol will keep your sugar the same or may even send it down. These include spirits with “diet” mixers. These are definitely the types of alcohol that a person with diabetes should select. Straight alcohol, if you can take it, may certainly drive your blood sugar down. In short, the higher the alcohol content, the more you should expect your sugar to fall; the higher the sugar content, the more you should expect your sugar to rise. People with diabetes are probably accustomed to scanning nutrition information and ingredient labels to find out what kind of ingredients may impact blood sugar levels. The hard part is not knowing how much of a certain ingredient a single drink might contain. This unknown factor is what makes alcohol consumption by a person with diabetes so dangerous.
The key is to drink in moderation. Never drink on an empty stomach and always eat first. Most importantly, monitor your sugar level before, during and after, so that you can see directly how alcohol is affecting you.
Take the Risks Seriously
Drinking alcohol with diabetes is always a risk. You must decide for yourself whether you are ready to take that risk, and if so, know how to manage it. No matter what, take drinking seriously, use alcohol moderately, and monitor your physical responses.