Type 2 Diabetes and Alcohol: Proceed With Caution


diabetes-drinking-alcohol
Alcohol can worsen diabetes-related nerve damage.
(RON CHAPPLE STOCK/CORBIS)
Hoping for a beer at the ball game, or a glass of wine with dinner?

If you have type 2 diabetes, that's probably OK as long as your blood sugar is under control, you don't have any complications that are affected by alcohol (such as high blood pressure), and you know how the drink will affect your blood sugar, according to the American Diabetes Association.

An alcohol-containing drink a day might even help your heart (though if you don't already drink, most experts say that's not a reason to start).

In moderation, alcohol may cut heart disease risk
According to a study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, women with type 2 diabetes who drank relatively small amounts of alcohol had a lower heart-disease risk than those who abstained. A second study found that men with diabetes had the same reduction in heart risk with a moderate alcohol intake as non-diabetic men.

In general, the recommendations for alcohol consumption for someone with type 2 diabetes are the same as anyone else: no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women. (Make sure to measure: A drink serving is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor such as scotch, gin, tequila, or vodka.)

People with diabetes who choose to drink need to take extra care keeping food, medications, alcohol, and blood sugars in balance.

Janis Roszler, RD, a certified diabetes educator in Miami, Fla., recommends:

  • Mixing alcoholic drinks with water or calorie-free diet sodas instead of sugary (and calorie- and carbohydrate-laden) sodas and other mixers.
  • Once you have had your drink, switch to a non-alcoholic drink, such as sparkling water, for the rest of the evening.
  • Make sure you have an eating strategy and plan in place to avoid overeating and overdrinking in social situations. Alcohol can make you more relaxed, and may lead you to make poor food or drinking decisions.
  • Don't drink on an empty stomach because alcohol can have a very rapid blood glucose lowering effect, which is slowed if there is food in your stomach.
  • If you're going to have a drink, wear your diabetes identification bracelet or necklace.

"If you become hypoglycemic and there is alcohol on your breath, police or paramedics may mistake your condition for being drunk and may not get the care you need," says Roszler.

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Last Updated: April 10, 2008

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