How Alcohol Affects Our Health
How Alcohol Affects Our Health
The reasons to drink are endless, whether it’s stress, work happy hours, celebrations, boredom, or social anxiety. Did you know how much you drink, what you drink, and when you drink impact your insulin levels? Before we get into the data about the connection between alcohol and insulin, ask yourself these questions:
- Is drinking a habit?
- Am I really drinking for the taste?
- Does drinking make me happy?
If your answers to these questions leave you wanting to know more, read the book “This Naked Mind” by Annie Grace. In it, she talks about letting go of societal conditioning and acknowledging that alcohol causes more problems than it fixes. From personal experience, I can tell you that Annie’s method works, but only if you are 100% committed to making a change. Now, let’s talk about our blog series on insulin resistance and how alcohol affects our health!
Alcohol and Glucose Levels
Chronic disease rates related to lifestyle and obesity are soaring, and for many people, drinking alcohol is a key contributor. Research suggests drinking can increase the likelihood of developing metabolic dysfunction by increasing insulin resistance and impairing the body's ability to process blood sugar.
I Just Had a Drink. Now What?
Under normal, healthy conditions, our bodies tend to do a good job at regulating and keeping glucose levels in a fairly narrow range. It is believed that alcohol consumption decreases our liver's ability to make new glucose. To avoid this decrease, alcohol stimulates the breakdown and release of stored glucose. If you subscribe to or are striving for metabolic health, pay attention. You tend to have much less glucose stored as glycogen in your liver and muscles, resulting in a much different effect. If you are fasting, the time you last ate, or are in a ketogenic state, alcohol is most likely going to affect you differently, resulting in potentially dangerously low glucose levels.
Alcohol and Food
To drink before, during, or after a meal, that is the question! A study involving healthy, lean individuals showed that consuming a small amount of alcohol (about 1.5 drinks) before a carbohydrate-heavy meal can result in lower post-meal glucose and insulin levels than eating the same meal without alcohol. If we know alcohol inhibits new glucose production, why does moderate drinking increase insulin sensitivity? A large meta-analysis, compiling data from more than ten studies on the metabolic effects of moderate alcohol consumption, showed decreases in hemoglobin A1c levels and fasting insulin levels.
Long-Term Alcohol Consumption
While drinking alcohol is socially acceptable, it can become a chronic, long-term addiction for some people. Many drinkers will develop alcoholic liver disease (ALD), which puts them at high risk for developing insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. Heavy alcohol use is thought to impair insulin receptor signaling, making our bodies more resistant to taking up glucose into cells. Damage to the pancreas worsens matters because pancreatic cells are susceptible to the toxic effects of alcohol.
Even binge drinking once a month can increase your risk of developing insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. Binge drinking is defined as drinking four alcoholic drinks within 2 hours for women and five alcoholic beverages within 2 hours for men. Binge drinking also increases inflammation and can disrupt neural control of your metabolism, resulting in insulin resistance. Binge drinking affects men’s and women’s metabolic health differently. Data from a long-term study showed that women had disproportionately elevated fasting glucose. These results were independent of BMI, meaning that it was unlikely elevated weight was causing the higher fasting glucose in heavy drinkers.
Moderate Alcohol Consumption
Moderate drinking is defined as up to four alcoholic drinks for men and three for women on any single day and a maximum of 14 for men and seven for women per week. Compared to heavy drinkers or those who abstain entirely, people who drink moderate levels of alcohol seem to have a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes and higher insulin sensitivity (~0.5-1 drink daily for women, 1-2 drinks daily for men). Another study showed that those completely abstaining from alcohol had a slightly higher risk than those drinking a light-to-moderate amount, and heavy drinkers were at the highest risk.
We know from the data that alcohol can impact our metabolic health. Whether you want to reduce the amount you drink, quit, or become a more mindful drinker, assessing your relationship with alcohol and how it affects your health is invaluable! I know what it takes to achieve this, and as a life coach, I have the knowledge, personal experience, and training to help you get through this worthwhile journey!
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