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September 3, 1999

Meal Planning, Food and Diet

Question from Iowa, USA:

My 18 year old son has had type 1 diabetes since he was 9. Just lately, he has had more trouble recognizing low blood sugars. We even had to call 911 to revive him one night as he was incoherent. I know he has a beer now and then, and although I don't like it, it will probably happen. How exactly does alcohol affect the body? How long can a person remain unconscious with low blood sugar (in case they are not found for a while) and still live through it?

Answer:

Alcohol prevents the liver from releasing glucose from glycogen (the body’s starch) when the blood sugar falls low. It is vital that your son knows to eat before during and after drinking alcohol. Provided this is only occasional then it’s better to risk a high blood sugar the following morning than a severe hypo. Your question about how long someone can be hypo without harm is impossible to answer because the experiment would be unethical and, by definition, we don’t know how long people who do suffer ill effects have been low. However, you should be reassured by the fact that lasting harm from hypos in diabetes is quite rare. He should watch the alcohol intake.

KJR