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The Effect of Alcohol on Insulin Resistance

author image Adam Cloe
Adam Cloe has been published in various scientific journals, including the "Journal of Biochemistry." He is currently a pathology resident at the University of Chicago. Cloe holds a Bachelor of Arts in biochemistry from Boston University, a M.D. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in pathology from the University of Chicago.
The Effect of Alcohol on Insulin Resistance
Alcohol bottles. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Your body uses insulin to pull glucose out of the blood. If your tissues do not respond effectively to insulin, you have a condition known as insulin resistance. Alcohol intake has a complex relationship to insulin resistance, with moderate alcohol intake resulting in decreased insulin resistance but high alcohol intake causing increased insulin resistance.

What Is Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance, also known as pre-diabetes, is caused by muscle, liver and fat cells not responding effectively to insulin. When this happens, your blood glucose levels can become chronically elevated, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders explains. One of the dangers of insulin resistance is that it frequently progresses into type 2 diabetes, which increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, kidney dysfunction, nerve damage and loss of vision.

Alcohol Consumption and Insulin Resistance

When you consume alcohol, your liver is responsible for breaking down and metabolizing the alcohol. While your liver is busy processing alcohol your blood glucose levels go down. According to a 2009 article in the "Tohuku Journal of Experimental Medicine," alcohol consumption is associated with a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This study found that in Japanese men, moderate alcohol consumption resulted in decreased insulin resistance.

Alcohol and Obesity

Paradoxically, consuming large amounts of alcohol increases insulin resistance. This may be due to the fact that alcohol adds calories to your diet, which can increase your chance of becoming overweight and obese. Too much body fat can make your body less sensitive to insulin, resulting in insulin resistance. A 2007 article in "Obesity" found that in elderly men alcohol intake correlated with obesity, which suggests that the high insulin resistance found in heavy drinkers could be explained by their proclivity to obesity.

Other Factors

Although these studies found a potential relationship between alcohol intake and insulin resistance, they also note that there are a number of other factors, such as age, diet and activity level, that also affect insulin resistance. Overall, these studies suggest that moderate alcohol intake is safe if you are concerned about insulin resistance or pre-diabetes, but only if you otherwise have a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced and nutritious diet and regular exercise.

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