Diabetics and Alcohol – Risky Business

Responsible Service of AlcoholThere are many health risks of drinking alcohol when you’re diabetic, but what is Diabetes, and how does alcohol affect it?

Unlike in healthy people, diabetics cannot regulate the amount of sugar (glucose) in their blood. A healthy person has several hormones to regulate their blood glucose level. Most commonly known is insulin. Insulin is produced by the pancreas and allows glucose to move from the blood into liver, muscle and fat cells, where it is used for fuel.

Diabetes is a disease that affects the pancreas and its ability to produce or process the required amounts of insulin, therefore glucose cannot move from the blood into cells, and so – stays and accumulates causing blackouts and in some cases seizures.

There are two types of diabetes. In Type 1 Diabetes, people do not produce enough insulin to regulate their blood glucose level. With Type 2 Diabetes, people cannot use insulin properly.

There is evidence that suggests that healthy adults who drink a light to moderate amount of alcohol may reduce their risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, but drinking a heavy or excessive amount of alcohol may increase their risk.

Diabetics can still enjoy a beverage; however it is recommended that they consume alcohol with a carbohydrate food or meal. Drinking alcohol without a meal can cause your blood sugar level to fall unexpectedly, especially if you take insulin or medication for Diabetes.

In addition, if you drink more than a light to moderate amount of alcohol, the alcohol can react with many of the prescribed diabetic medications and worsen the side effects of Diabetes; for example, increased blood pressure. Diabetics should only drink alcohol at or below the National Health and Medical Research Council’s recommendations of a maximum of two (2) 10gm standard alcoholic drinks per day. Those who regularly drink a light to moderate amount of alcohol with a meal may reduce their risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Just as equally drinking a heavy or excessive amount of alcohol will worsen the effects of Diabetes, significantly increasing the fasting blood concentration of fats and increasing the risk of damage to the nerves and eyes.

Certain alcoholic beverages contain sugar. With this in mind, diabetics should only drink low alcohol (‘lite’) and low sugar alcoholic beverages, and when mixing drinks – use a no or low calorie (‘diet’) mixer such as diet cola, diet ginger ale, diet lemonade, diet soda or diet tonic water. High alcohol and high sugar liqueurs and fortified wines are not recommended for people with Diabetes.

Diabetes is a major disease in Australia, with a growing number of people of all ages suffering from it.

About 700,000 Australians (3.6% of the population) had been diagnosed with diabetes by 2004/05, and this figure is growing.

Diabetes is the sixth highest cause of death by disease in Australia.

People with diabetes are almost three (3) times more likely to have high blood pressure, be overweight, or have elevated blood fats such as cholesterol and triglycerides.

People with diabetes are two to three times more likely to have cardiovascular disease.

However, Diabetes does not mean you need to stay away from alcohol. Diabetics must just be mindful of their intake, how it will affect their medication or insulin levels. Knowing how to measure a standard drink is vital information for diabetics – this way, they can accurately measure their intake and compensate with carbohydrates. Learning about the effects of alcohol and how to measure standard drinks is all basic information included in a Responsible Service of Alcohol course.

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