Éduc’alcool releases new scientific publication on alcohol and diabetes: lower risk for moderate drinkers, higher risk for heavy drinkers

Montreal, April 7, 2021People who drink alcohol moderately and regularly, i.e. about two standard drinks a day, three to four days a week, have a lower risk of developing diabetes. However, women who have more than 3.7 drinks a day and men who have more than 4.5 drinks a day are at much higher risk of developing the disease than people who have never drunk alcohol.

That is the conclusion of “Alcohol and Diabetes,” the latest report in Éduc’alcool’s Alcohol and Health series. The publication examines all the latest data regarding the link between moderate drinking, heavy drinking and diabetes, in general and in detail.

“This doesn’t mean you should consider those amounts upper limits,” advises Hubert Sacy, Director General of Éduc’alcool. “When you drink that much, you are at greater risk of developing diseases other than diabetes, in particular certain cancers and cardiovascular diseases. Furthermore, for people who are already diabetic, heavy drinking can lead to cardiovascular, kidney and vision problems, as well as an increased risk of hypoglycemia.”

This is a subject of interest to many Quebecers, since nearly one million of them are diabetic. Diabetes Quebec estimates that about a quarter of a million are not even aware they have the disease.

The new publication from Éduc’alcool was revised by Dr. Rémi Rabasa-Lhoret, MD, PhD, Full Research Professor and Vice President, Clinic and Clinical Research of the Montreal Clinical Research Institute (IRCM), where he also directs the Diabetes Clinic, the Metabolic Diseases research unit and the research platform on obesity, metabolism and diabetes. He is also a full professor in the Department of Nutrition, Faculty of Medicine, Université de Montréal; a physician in the Endocrinology Division, Medicine Department, CHUM; and holder of the J.A. DeSève and Lamarre Gosselin Chair in diabetes research.

Drinking and diabetes

As explained in the report, drinking alcohol affects a number of risk factors related to diabetes. The risk varies according to the amount of alcohol consumed and drinking frequency. For example, heavy drinking can lead to an inflammation of the pancreas called pancreatitis, which limits the organ’s ability to produce insulin and thus increases the risk of type 2 diabetes (the most common form of the disease).

The publication also covers metabolic syndrome, another factor that increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. The syndrome is diagnosed when a cluster of medical conditions are present, all of which are affected by alcohol. One in five Canadians has this syndrome, and risk increases with age. The risk of metabolic syndrome doubles when you have more than three standard drinks a day.

The connection between drinking and other risk factors for diabetes is also examined. The report looks at how alcohol can affect insulin sensitivity (or resistance), as well as triglyceride, adiponectin and acetaldehyde levels.

Recommendations for diabetics

Based on the carefully examined data in the publication, Éduc’alcool recommends that diabetics make sure they meet three criteria before drinking alcohol:

  1. Have their diabetes under control, i.e. able to maintain blood sugar at recommended levels;
  2. Have no health problems for which drinking would be contraindicated;
  3. Know how to prevent and treat hypoglycemia (below-normal blood sugar).

Diabetics should also be sure always to eat before or while drinking, monitor their blood sugar while drinking, and keep sweet snacks or glucose tablets handy to prevent or treat hypoglycemia.

Éduc’alcool also recommends that diabetics drink only when eating a carbohydrate-rich meal, and that they stick to the low-risk drinking guidelines:

  • 2 standard drinks a day, maximum 10 a week, for women; 3 standard drinks a day, maximum 15 a week, for men.
  • On special occasions, women may have 3 drinks, and men, 4.
  • Everyone should plan at least one and preferably two days a week with no alcohol at all, to keep drinking from becoming a habit.

“In addition to following these recommendations, it is a good idea to be aware of the carbohydrate content of every alcohol drink you have, in order to better control blood sugar levels. As always, we find that, even when it comes to diabetes, moderation is always in good taste,” concluded Hubert Sacy.

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