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Diabetes and Alcohol: Staying Smart About Drinking During the Holidays

By Tracy Hampton
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center correspondent


'Tis the season for holiday cheer, and that often means enjoying alcoholic beverages. Alcohol consumption should always be discussed with your doctor, especially if you have diabetes because alcohol can interfere with the positive effects of certain diabetes medications or insulin. It can also affect blood sugar levels.

"Moderate amounts of alcohol consumed along with something to eat does not significantly raise our blood sugar or insulin levels," says Dr. J. Jacques Carter, a primary care physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

"Moderate" refers to up to one drink daily for women and up to two drinks daily for men.

"Of course, given the popularity of mixed drinks, including many of the flavorful martinis, margaritas, and other fruity concoctions, one has to be mindful of carbohydrate content of the mixers, which can raise blood sugar levels," adds Dr. Carter.

Also, beer and sweet wine contain carbohydrates and may raise blood sugar. Excess alcohol can actually decrease your blood sugar and even cause it to drop to a dangerous level.

And, alcohol contains empty calories, meaning that they do not provide nutritional value. This could interfere with one's intake of healthy, nutritious foods.

"If someone is struggling to maintain their weight - and maintaining a healthy weight is optimal in diabetes - alcohol can increase overall calories throughout the day and lead to weight gain," says Elisabeth Moore, a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist at BIDMC.

Of course, alcohol that is combined with another beverage in a mixed drink can add even more calories and sugar to the diet. Moore notes that alcohol consumption can impact the liver and pancreas, which can be dangerous for someone with diabetes. She offers this advice heading into the holidays:

  • Plan ahead and bring non-alcoholic beverages with you to parties.
  • If you choose to drink and your doctor says it is okay to do so, limit intake to one to two drinks.
  • Alternate water or sparkling water with alcoholic beverages.
  • Avoid high sugar mixed drinks such as margaritas and alcohol mixed with regular sodas.

Another point to consider: the American Diabetes Association notes that the symptoms of drinking too much alcohol and of having low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia) can be similar: sleepiness, dizziness, and disorientation. As a diabetic, you do not want anyone to confuse hypoglycemia for drunkenness, because they might not offer you the proper assistance and treatment.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted November 2012

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Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
Department of Medicine
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
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617-667-9344
617-667-7060

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