Small Amounts of Alcohol Slightly Increases Risk of Low Blood Sugar in Certain Diabetics
WebMD News Archive
"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
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."
- 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.