Small Amounts of Alcohol Slightly Increases Risk of Low Blood Sugar in Certain Diabetics
Dec. 13, 1999 (Tuscaloosa, Ala.) -- A beer or two after skipping a meal may
not be a good idea for type 2 diabetic patients who take the prescription drugs
known as sulfonylureas to treat their diabetes, according to a study by
researchers at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center in
Doctors have long known that there is a low risk of hypoglycemia (very low
blood sugar levels that can cause symptoms including unconsciousness) during
fasting periods among otherwise healthy, elderly patients with type 2 diabetes
who take sulfonylurea medications. Now they have found out that the addition of
even a relatively small amount of alcohol increases that risk to fasting
individuals who are on insulin-release-stimulating drugs such as
chlorpropamide, glyburide, glipizide, and glimeperide.
The study, conducted by Mark R. Burge, MD, and his colleagues, looked at the
effect of giving the equivalent of one or two shots of alcohol to fasting
elderly diabetic patients on sulfonylurea. In the study, fasting was defined as
doing without food for 24 hours.
"Previous studies had demonstrated that intoxicating levels of blood
alcohol resulted in increased insulin secretion and low blood sugars in
nondiabetic individuals," Burge tells WebMD. "We wanted to quantify
what the effects of low levels of alcohol would be on elderly type 2 diabetic
patients who were fasting."
Burge and his fellow researchers had 10 type 2 diabetic patients, ranging in
age from 65 to 71, go on two 24-hour fasts at least one week apart. These
patients were all given glyburide once a day for the week before the fasting
study took place. During hours 14 and 15 of the fasting studies, the subjects
received injections in the vein of either a placebo fluid or alcohol equal to
that of one or two ounces of beer, wine, or spirits. Then, every 30 to 60
minutes during the final 10 hours of the fast, blood samples were taken to
measure the amounts of alcohol, blood sugar, insulin, and certain hormones.
The blood alcohol levels peaked at the lower legal limit of intoxication
while blood sugar levels plummeted, according to the study.
"The absolute decline in blood sugar was greater in the patients who got
the alcohol" than in those who were given placebo, Burge says. "These
results indicate that a little bit of alcohol may increase your risk of
hypoglycemia if you are on sulfonylurea drugs and haven't eaten."
There has been increased interest over the past few years about the
potential health benefits of moderate intakes of alcohol. One large study
showed an impressive decrease in the risk of cardiovascular death and overall
mortality associated with alcohol intake among patients with type 2 diabetes.
An interesting finding in this study is that the alcohol intake appears to
reduce fatty acid concentrations in the bloodstreams of the subjects.