Glucose, a substance obtained by eating carbohydrates such as cereal and pasta, is an important source of energy. Drinking alcohol can cause hypoglycemia, or dangerously low blood glucose levels resulting in dizziness, disorientation, and even coma. While a maximum of one alcoholic beverage per day is considered safe for most people, including individuals with blood glucose disorders, it's important talk to your doctor about the amount of alcohol that's safe for you, especially if you have diabetes or another health condition.
Liquor and Blood Sugar
Drinking alcohol can lower your blood sugar, particularly if you drink hard liquor such as vodka. When you have alcohol in your system, your body will process it before it breaks down carbohydrates or other nutrients. Thus, your liver does not release glucose, the end-product of carbohydrate metabolization, while it is busy removing alcohol. Liquor also causes the pancreas to sustain its release of insulin. Unlike beer and wine, distilled liquors such as vodka do not contain any carbohydrates and are thus more likely to cause a drop in blood sugar, especially if you drink it straight or on an empty stomach.
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Recommendations for People with Blood Glucose Disorders
While alcohol consumption can cause hypoglycemia in otherwise healthy people, individuals with diabetes who take insulin or other blood glucose-lowering medications are especially at risk for developing hypoglycemia from drinking alcohol. While it's probably safe for most people with diabetes to have a single alcoholic drink -- the equivalent of a 1.5-oz shot of vodka or another distilled spirit -- per day, you should not exceed this amount. Your doctor may recommend testing your blood glucose levels and eating some food before drinking alcohol with diabetes.
While a shot of vodka may temporarily lower blood glucose levels, this does not necessarily make it a healthy drink. While vodka doesn't contain carbs, all alcohol contains calories -- about 7 calories per gram, almost as much as fat -- and vodka is no exception. Therefore, even a shot of vodka per day can lead to weight gain if you don't cut calories from other areas. Besides slowing the processing of carbohydrates, having alcohol in your system also slows fat metabolization, which can also contribute to weight gain. Furthermore, a shot of vodka may cause you to eat more than you otherwise would to compensate for its glucose-lowering effects.
Healthy Ways to Lower Glucose
People with elevated blood glucose levels due to diabetes or another cause should not use alcohol as a remedy to lower blood glucose. However, there are other simple actions you can take to accomplish a healthy decrease in blood glucose levels -- while avoiding a steep drop that could result in hypoglycemia. For example, exercise helps people with diabetes use insulin more effectively, resulting in lower blood glucose levels. Weight loss, obtained as a result of exercise and healthy eating, can also lower blood glucose levels in people who are overweight.
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Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.