Drinking & Diabetes: How Many Is Too Many & Are There Benefits To Moderation?

Throughout my life diabetes has always something I’ve paid close attention to. I come from a Hispanic background and as many of you may or may not know, they are the most at risk demographic of developing type 2 diabetes. Some think its diet, others say genetics. All I knew was that 3 of my 5 family members ended up developing it in their lifetime.

I didn’t want to be doomed to the same fate. Not just sugar, but carbs had to be the first things I learned to control when losing excess weight. Most people think about sweets like soda and candy when discussing how to manage diabetes, but most might not immediately think about alcohol consumption or carbs from wheat. While I wouldn’t say our family was a bunch of drunks, we did enjoy drinking at family BBQs and we sure had a lot of them!


It’s easy to say no to the cake or pastries because we instinctively know they’re bad of us, but pounding beers with friends/family or at a football game for a few hours can be almost as bad as putting away that “cake” by yourself.  From personal experience, I know that college tailgating usually involved at least 4 hours of standing around holding a can that wasn’t a diet coke. Factor in the weekends worth of parties, mixers plus the late night eating and the pounds can quickly add up.

The body can make quick work of alcohol, tuning it into sugars by way of the liver. Studies have shown that this can in fact not only make it more difficult to lose the belly fat, but can cause an excess build up around the liver, resulting in fatty liver disease.  

 Ok cool, but what does drinking have to do with diabetes? Well for starters, excessive drinking can lower the body’s sensitivity to insulin, which leads to type 2 diabetes, the kind that tends to develop through weight gain/bad diet.   


Three big ways in which heavy drinking can contribute to diabetes are:


1. Insulin sensitivity reduction

2. Chronic pancreatitis, which diabetes becomes a very common side effect of

3. Rapid weight gain due to the liquid calories and carbs.


Now before everyone gets crazy on me about their glass of red a day, studies have found that moderate drinkers actually reduce their chances of developing type 2 diabetes compared to heavy drinkers. Researchers believe its due to the low levels of alcohol actually increasing the body’s sensitivity to insulin. So the current rule is like most things, to keep it in moderation.


Differences between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes



So, we know why it’s bad and what it can lead to, but what about the symptoms? How can we tell if our body’s beginning to show signs of diabetes? They can vary depending on which type you’re beginning to develop.


Type 1 diabetes is when the pancreas no longer produces insulin, which is necessary to break down sugar for energy. When this fails to occur, sugar quickly builds up in the body. Symptoms tend to happen very quickly and are often more severe. Some symptoms include:


·       Frequent urination

·       Excessive thirst

·       Weight loss

·       Increase in appetite

·       Blurred vision

·       Feeling tired/low energy


Many of these are due to water fluctuations because your body is trying to flush out the excess sugar in the blood. This also explains why in the long run it can severely damage the kidneys. One interesting symptom is something called diabetic ketoacidosis, where in addition to the symptoms above, people develop a “fruity” smelling breath due to the lack of insulin the body.


Type 2 Diabetes can often take longer to notice due to the slow onset of symptoms. Many people who have the disease don’t even know it initially, but over time, the symptoms start to become noticeable.


·       High blood sugar

The first sign that something may be wrong is a person’s blood sugar levels beginning to rise. This could indicate that the body is not properly breaking down sugar in the blood, possibly because of the lack of insulin or insulin sensitivity. As the blood sugar levels begin to rise, all of the symptoms mentioned in type 1 begin to surface, the thirst, the frequent urination, blurred vision, etc.

If you feel like you have these symptoms, it’s best to see a physician as soon as possible to get your blood sugar checked. Waiting until symptoms become severe can end up landing you in the ER with complications such as liver and kidney damage, heart disease, and even a diabetic coma.


 Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can check your blood sugar.  


Guide To Blood Tests for Diabetes


Hemoglobin A1C Test


A hemoglobin A1C test is a blood test for Diabetes which offers information on an individual’s average blood glucose levels for the past 2-3 months. This is more of a “big picture” view of how your body’s been managing its blood glucose or sugar levels. For someone who’s healthy and has no symptoms of diabetes, this blood test is normally given annually as part of a physical.


For someone over 20 years of age, A1C levels should be within the 4% to 5.6%. anything higher (5.7%-6.4%) can indicate someone either being at risk for developing diabetes. An A1C value of 6.5% or higher indicates the person has developed diabetes.

Daily Glucose Monitoring

For those already diagnosed with diabetes, doctors advise using a daily glucose monitoring tool to monitor sugar. This involves sticking the side your finger with a small tool called a “lance” to draw blood. You then use a small strip to absorb the blood droplet and once collected, you insert the strip into the monitor. While your doctor may recommend when to and how frequently to check your levels, some of the most common times are:


  • Before breakfast (fasting)
  • Before lunch/dinner
  • Two hours after a meal
  • Before bed
  • Before rigorous exercise
  • When you are feeling unwell

The values on the monitors tend to be given in millimol per mol (mmol/mol) vs. percentages, but the target range you should aim for is 48-53. Of course, these values can vary for children or the elderly, so it’s important to discuss them with your doctor.


This has been more of a broad explanation of ways in which to diagnose and monitor diabetes, as the topic of diabetes can be very complex. In future articles, I’ll be discussing how people manage their diabetes through diet, exercise, proper medication, as well as ways in which people who have diabetes in their family can avoid developing them.



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