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Small Amounts of Alcohol Slightly Increases Risk of Low Blood Sugar in Certain Diabetics


"The absolute decline in blood sugar was greater in the patients who got the alcohol" than in those who were given placebo, Burge says. "These results indicate that a little bit of alcohol may increase your risk of hypoglycemia if you are on sulfonylurea drugs and haven't eaten."

There has been increased interest over the past few years about the potential health benefits of moderate intakes of alcohol. One large study showed an impressive decrease in the risk of cardiovascular death and overall mortality associated with alcohol intake among patients with type 2 diabetes. An interesting finding in this study is that the alcohol intake appears to reduce fatty acid concentrations in the bloodstreams of the subjects.

Fatty acids play a critical role in affecting the balance of glucose in the bloodstream during alcohol ingestion, says Burge, but the state of knowledge isn't sufficient yet to recommend or not recommend the moderate use of alcohol by diabetic patients, he tells WebMD.

Another expert, George Dailey, MD, who provides an objective assessment of the study for WebMD, says, "This study validates what we have known for a long time -- that even one or two drinks without eating could put you at a slightly increased risk for hypoglycemia, especially if you are an elderly patient on a sulfonylurea medication."

"The key is whether you eat or not," Dailey tells WebMD. "I usually tell my patients who want an alcoholic beverage with their meal that one or two drinks is not likely to be a problem, but if they drink substantial amounts of alcoholic beverages between meals or skip meals then the risk is substantial."

As far as the potential health advantages of alcohol ingestion, Dailey, head of the division of diabetes and endocrinology of the Scripps Clinic in San Diego, says, "I would never recommend that a nondrinker start drinking, but if somebody who already drinks alcoholic beverages wants to have one or two during a meal there isn't any reason to restrict them."

Vital Information:

  • In elderly, type 2 diabetic patients taking sulfonylureas, moderate alcohol intake during fasting periods increases the risk of hypoglycemia.
  • Alcohol intake reduces the concentration of fatty acids in the blood, which play a role in glucose regulation.
  • The effects of moderate alcohol intake for diabetics are not completely understood, so there are no clear recommendations for patients.
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