Alcohol & Hyperglycemia

Instructor: Veronika Polozkova

Masters in International Health. Lesson development experience on different levels from basic alimentary school to academic master level. Languages: English, Dutch, Russian

Hyperglycemia is a health condition that can be recognized by high blood sugar levels. Lifestyle factors, like alcohol consumption, play an important role in managing hyperglycemia. Learn about what impact alcohol has on hyperglycemia.

What Is Hyperglycemia?

Hyperglycemia is a health condition that is characterized by high levels of glucose in the blood. We also call it 'high blood sugar'. Diabetes is the most common known cause of hyperglycemia, but hyperglycemia can also occur in people who are not diagnosed with diabetes.

If hyperglycemia is consistent over a longer period, then the sugar in the patient's blood can cause damage to blood vessels and organs, which can cause diabetes. Therefore, the diabetes diagnosis is only certain when hyperglycemia is occurring regularly and the amount of sugar in the blood is above a certain level. All diabetic patients need to check their blood sugar regularly to avoid hyperglycemia and the health complications that it can cause.

Incidental and non-severe hyperglycemia often do not have specific symptoms. But when hyperglycemia is reoccurring, like in the case of diabetes, it can be recognized by the following symptoms:

  • frequent hunger and thirst (dry mouth)
  • frequent urination
  • fatigue
  • vision loss
  • poor wound healing
  • weight loss
  • dry skin
  • tingling feeling in the feet

Hyperglycemia can be treated with lifestyle interventions (like diet and physical activity) and medication. If hyperglycemia is untreated, it can cause much damage to the blood circulation system and result in heart conditions.

Alcohol has a special effect on blood glucose levels, so people suffering from hyperglycemia must take this into account when making dietary choices, and medical specialists need to educate their patients about alcohol and hyperglycemia.

Alcohol's Effects on Hyperglycemia

Alcohol has the number one digestion priority in our body. The liver, where many metabolic processes happen, always first digests alcohol before other elements. This means that consumed sugar (glucose) cannot be metabolized before alcohol is fully digested. This often leads to a decrease in the blood sugar levels shortly after alcohol consumption and can cause hypoglycemia, a health condition that is characterized by low blood sugar levels.

Consuming alcohol might therefore look like a solution for fighting hyperglycemia at first, but it is definitely not. Drinking alcohol can be very dangerous for hyperglycemia patients because it makes their blood sugar drop so fast that that they can lose consciousness because there is not enough glucose to fulfill brain functioning needs.

Most alcoholic beverages also contain sugar. Beer, sweet wine, cocktails and mixed drinks have very high amounts of sugar. When drinking these beverages, first your blood sugar drops due to the alcohol. But very soon, when the alcohol is digested and your liver starts to break down sugars, your blood glucose rises again very fast. Those fast changing peaks and drops in blood glucose cause severe damage to the blood circulation system. This can exacerbate current health conditions and lead to complications like cardiac disease and kidney dysfunction.

Dry wine and distillate spirits like vodka and cognac contain little to no sugar. Therefore they do not cause extremely high glucose levels, but do still cause extremely low blood glucose levels (hypoglycemia). Because these drinks contain no sugar, even after the alcohol is digested there will be no sugar digestion. This results in extremely low blood glucose levels that can lead to loss of consciousness.

People that suffer from hyperglycemia are advised to avoid alcohol. If they choose to drink, they should drink not more then one glass of alcohol a day and always consider the type of alcohol they choose. It is very important to understand what effect a specific alcoholic beverage will have on blood glucose levels after consumption and to consider these when taking medication for hyperglycemia.

For people with hyperglycemia it is very important to measure blood glucose levels at all times, but it is especially important when drinking alcohol. Blood sugar can be tracked with a portable glucose meter, which measures actual glucose in blood and directly shows you the value. This can help to manage medication and guide lifestyle choices, including alcohol consumption.

Alcohol and Medication

Alcohol can have dangerous interactions with medications for hyperglycemia
Alcohol and medication

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