How does alcohol affect the blood?

Blood contains a form of sugar known as glucose, a substance produced in the liver. Glucose is utilised in the body for cell growth and in meeting the body’s day-to-day energy needs. Glucose is converted and stored in our muscles in the form of glycogen so that the body has a backup source of energy should glucose levels become depleted. And when blood sugar rises insulin is released from the pancreas to bring blood sugar levels down to healthy levels by transferring glucose into cells to be used as energy.

Studies have shown that excessive alcohol consumption interrupts with the body’s natural ability to regulate its blood sugar levels. For instance, if you drink an excessive amount of alcohol and do not eat enough carbohydrates to accompany the alcohol you consume, your body will quickly deplete its stores of glycogen from the muscles. This is because alcohol prevents the liver from producing glucose so the body will switch to stored glycogen. To compensate the body will secrete insulin so as to lower blood sugar to levels considered unhealthy. Furthermore, if you abuse alcohol over a prolonged period of time you will weaken insulin’s ability to lower high blood sugar levels and increase your risk of contracting Type II Diabetes. Diabetes is a common side effect of chronic pancreatitis, a disease synonymous amongst heavy drinkers.

Binge drinking can prompt the pancreas to release insulin in dangerous quantities. In turn, the insulin will lower your body’s blood sugar levels to unhealthy levels, a condition known as ‘hypoglycemia’, particularly if you consume excessive amounts of alcohol on an empty stomach. If you’re one of the UK’s three million diabetes sufferers you are particularly urged to eat something prior to drinking any alcohol, particularly if you’re injecting insulin to regulate your diabetes i.e. if you suffer from Type I Diabetes. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include sleepiness and dizziness.

To avoid damaging your body’s ability to regulate its blood sugar, you’re advised to drink within your recommended daily limit of units. This is typically 3-4 units if you’re a man and 2-3 units if you’re a woman. And if you’re a diabetic you are advised to ensure you eat enough carbohydrates both before and after you embark on drinking alcohol.