Should you drink alcohol if you have diabetes?

Posted on 26 October 2017

If you’re living with diabetes, be sure to eat and plan ahead before you have a small sundowner, says a Mediclinic expert.

Having a small glass of wine or a beer at the end of the day is an enjoyable ritual. But can you still partake if you’re living with diabetes?

‘Having diabetes doesn’t mean you necessarily have to say “no” to a drink,’ says Ilsabe Spoelstra, a dietician at Medicinic Bloemfontein. ‘It does however mean that you need to prepare and be careful. If you do drink, do it occasionally and only when your diabetes and blood sugar levels are well-controlled.’

Your liver plays a vital role in balancing your blood sugar-to-insulin ratio when you’re not eating or drinking. Having a glass of wine can cause a drop in blood glucose because your liver then focuses on ridding your body of the toxins you’re consuming and its capacity to produce glucose is significantly reduced.

Spoelstra adds that if you drink alcohol before you’ve eaten, your blood glucose level will start dropping because your liver will be unable to release the necessary glucose into your blood stream. Alcohol can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) shortly after drinking and up to 24 hours after drinking.

‘If you’re living with diabetes, it’s crucial to eat a balanced meal (with protein, low carbohydrates and good fats) beforehand, says Spoelstra. ‘The food will give your body the necessary sugar to counteract the effects of the alcohol.’

It’s not worth making the mistake of thinking a cocktail might help lower your blood glucose if it’s too high, either. ‘The effects of alcohol can be unpredictable and the risk most likely outweighs any possible benefit,’ Spoelstra cautions.

Experts say that regular drinking can also interfere with good diabetes self-care. A 2013 study published Acta Diabetologica involving almost 66 000 patients with diabetes found that the more alcohol patients drank, the more likely they were to smoke and the less likely they were to exercise, eat healthily and take their diabetes medication.

Spoelstra adds these important points to bear in mind before you raise that glass to your lips.

  1. Don’t drink on an empty stomach or when your blood glucose is low.
  2. If you’re in a situation where the booze is flowing freely, the signs of hypoglycaemia (feeling dizzy, sleepy or confused) might be confused with being intoxicated. Ensure a friend is aware of your condition and wear a MedicAlert bracelet.
  3. Steer clear of craft beers as they have up to twice the alcohol content and calories as a light beer.
  4. Consider shandies with ice and soda water, or a little bit of light beer mixed with a bit of diet soda and filled up with soda.
  5. Avoid sugary mixed drinks, sweet wine or cordials.
  6. Always drink in moderation. If you drink regularly, ensure your doctor knows so they can advise you.
  7. If you can ban alcohol completely, even better. Recent research suggests the health drawbacks far outweigh any possible benefits.



Published in Diabetes

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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