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Beer and Diabetes

author image Kay Peck
Based in Northern California, Kay Peck is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She and holds a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from Minnesota State University and an MPH from San Jose State University. She works in diabetes care, and is a freelance health and nutrition writer.
Beer and Diabetes
Bartender serving beer to customers Photo Credit Adam Berry/Getty Images News/Getty Images

If you enjoy beer, your options are plentiful. When you have diabetes, however, there are concerns beyond which beer to choose. You may wonder whether drinking beer poses a health risk or might make your blood sugar more difficult to control. While there are potential blood sugar problems associated with drinking beer, many people with diabetes are able to safely drink in moderation -- meaning no more than 12 ounces of beer daily for women and no more than 24 ounces for men. Talk with your doctor to determine whether drinking beer is safe for you.

Rising Blood Sugar

Beer is made from cereal grains, making it a source of carbohydrates. A 12-ounce serving of regular beer typically contains 10 to 15 g of carbohydrates, and light beer contains about 5 g. As these carbohydrates are digested, your blood sugar may rise. The increase in blood sugar relates to the carbohydrate content of the beer, although other factors are involved. Long-term, excessive alcohol intake can cause high blood sugar by damaging your pancreas and its ability to make the blood-sugar-lowering hormone insulin.

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Falling Blood Sugar

The carbohydrates in beer can cause an initial rise in your blood sugar, but the alcohol content can lead to low blood sugar 2 to 12 hours later. This occurs primarily because alcohol inhibits liver production of blood sugar, or glucose. When the supply of stored glucose is exhausted, your blood sugar may fall. This is most likely when glucose stores are low from exercise or not eating enough, and a large quantity of alcohol is consumed. You are more vulnerable to this effect if you take insulin or pills that stimulate insulin release. Low blood sugar is less likely if you eat food when drinking alcohol.

Health Effects

Beer and other alcoholic beverages can have mixed effects on your health. A 5-year study involving 11,140 people with type 2 diabetes found moderate alcohol drinkers had a 17 percent lower risk of heart attack and stroke compared to nondrinkers, according the May 2014 Diabetes Care report. When the authors examined the type of alcohol consumed, however, they found no reduction in heart attack or stroke occurred among people who drank primarily beer or hard liquor. Heavy drinkers were found to have a higher risk of heart attack, stroke and death from any cause. While the cardiovascular effects of moderate alcohol intake continue to be explored, heavy alcohol use is clearly detrimental and increases your risk for certain cancers, liver disease and accidental injuries.

Safety Tips

The doctor working with you to manage your diabetes is best able to advise you on whether you can safely drink beer. Your doctor may recommend avoiding alcohol if you take certain medications, have liver or nerve disease, or have a history of substance abuse. Because weight management is an important factor in controlling your diabetes, this is another consideration in deciding whether beer fits into your overall nutrition plan.

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