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How does alcohol impact blood sugar? By Henry Anhalt

It is useful to think about the interaction between alcohol and diabetes in two ways; the impact that alcohol has on raising and lowering blood sugar, and the dangers of impaired thinking from intoxication and hypoglycemia.

 

High carbohydrate (e.g., beer) or sugar containing alcoholic beverages (e.g., mixed drinks like piña coladas) are likely to raise blood sugar, while pure alcoholic (unsweetened) beverages like vodka, scotch and gin are likely to lower blood sugar and can cause severe hypoglycemia.

 

Why is this?

  • Alcohol stops the liver from making glycogen (the form of sugar stored in the liver), and blocks the hormone glucagons (which allows the liver to release the sugar).
  • The liver acts like a big dimmer switch, increasing and decreasing sugar output by balancing glycogen formation and glucagon effect as needed.

 

If someone drinks too much alcohol they may seem confused, although they may be hypoglycemic. People may attribute strange behavior associated with hypoglycemia to being drunk rather than attributing the behavior to a hypoglycemic episode. The impaired person may not be able to treat themselves. This presents a particular risk since it may delay treatment.

 

Additionally, in the worst case scenario, someone with life-threatening hypoglycemia won’t be able to respond to glucagon since the stores of sugar in the liver are depleted.

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Meet our Experts

Henry Anhalt

Henry Anhalt

Chief Medical Officer and Medical Director Artificial Pancreas Program

Animas Corporation

As the Chief Medical Officer and Medical Director Artificial Pancreas Program for Animas Corporation, Dr. Henry Anhalt is responsible for the company’s medical and clinical activities. With more than fifteen years of clinical practice experience, Henry has had an illustrious career as a leading pediatric endocrinologist. He maintains a clinical practice in New Jersey.

Before joining Animas, Dr. Anhalt was the Director of the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes at the Saint Barnabas Medical Center, and Co-Director of their Healthy L.I.F.E. program, a multidisciplinary obesity treatment program. This award-winning, family-centered, behaviorally based, multi-disciplinary program for overweight children and their families has achieved national and international recognition.

Dr. Anhalt completed his post-doctoral fellowship in pediatric endocrinology at the Lucille Salter Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University and was a recipient of the prestigious Dean's fellowship award. His research at Stanford focused on disorders of growth, puberty and diabetes. He also helped design a video game for children with diabetes.

Additionally, Dr. Anhalt is a leader in diabetes care and champions the use of pump therapy and continuous glucose monitoring in all children with diabetes. His expertise and outcomes have been published and appreciated by his pediatric endocrinology peers.

Henry holds a D.O. degree from the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine. He maintains an academic appointment as Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at the State University of New York at Downstate, where he ran their fellowship training program, and at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine.

He lives with his wife and three children in Northern New Jersey.

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