October 14, 2000
Meal Planning, Food and Diet
Question from Hotmail.com:
I’ve read that alcohol can lower your blood sugar, and I don’t understand how this works. Doesn’t alcohol contain sugar? Can anyone explain this to me?
Alcohol has priority for metabolism, so it does not allow other foods to be used for energy as quickly as they might have without the alcohol. The mechanism for this: alcohol lowers the blood glucose levels since it inhibits gluconeogenesis and glycogenolysis (the ability to make or produce new glucose (or sugar) from either the foods you eat or from body stores). This will promote hypoglycemia since there would not be enough glucose in the bloodstream. To avoid this, you will need to consume some carbohydrates, such as crackers. For sure, do not skip food when having any alcohol.
Additional comments from Dr. Tessa Lebinger:
Alcohol does not directly lower blood sugar, but interferes with the body’s normal mechanism to prevent low blood sugar by pulling stored sugar from the liver (both in people with diabetes and people without diabetes). If alcohol is mixed with carbohydrate as in beer, sweet wine, or when hard liquor is mixed with regular soda or orange juice, the net effect is usually an increase in the blood sugar. (You only need to pull stored sugar from the liver when you go a long time without eating or your blood sugar is falling.) Even people without diabetes can develop a low blood sugar if they drink pure alcohol (hard liquor) on an empty stomach — it also works faster to make you drunk on an empty stomach.
It is especially important for people with diabetes to follow the advice of drinking in moderation, and not on an empty stomach.
The symptoms of low blood sugar can be mistaken for drunkenness if you have alcohol on your breath.