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Small amounts of alcohol are usually safe for diabetics, although dessert wines and mixed drinks usually contain too much sugar. Red wine may even lower blood sugars. One glass of red wine may offer the benefits of four tablets of Avandia.
If there is any single fact of life that is quickly impressed on diabetics who monitor their blood sugar levels, it is that almost any food raises blood sugars. Sugar-sweetened foods release glucose quickly and raise blood sugar levels quickly.

Pastas, breads, rice, and potatoes take a few hours up to a day longer to affect diabetes control, but they play havoc with blood sugar levels, too. Even eating too much meat can raise blood sugar levels as excess amino acids are converted to sugar and urea, which has to be alkalized by the kidneys.

That's because alcohol interferes with the liver's ability to release sugar. The effects of alcohol are particularly acute on diabetics who watch their diets and take special care to regulate blood sugar levels.

Alcohol can keep the liver from converting excess protein into sugar and even lead to hypoglycemia, a condition that cause symptoms ranging from getting the giggles to loss of consciousness. And involuntary loss of consciousness just isn't healthy, especially if the people around think you are drunk and need to sober up instead of realizing that your blood sugar levels are crashing and you may need emergency treatment.
Wine as a Treatment for Diabetes

Dozens of articles on the Internet will tell you that a chemical found in red wine that is called resveratrol will increase the body's sensitivity to insulin and help diabetics lower their blood sugars. And dozens of articles on the Internet published before August 2011 were based on pure speculation.

Just a few months ago the British Journal of Nutrition published the findings of the first study of resveratrol as a treatment for diabetes that involved actual human beings, conducted by scientists at the University of Pécs in Hungary. The Hungarian researchers found that giving volunteers two 5-milligram tablets of resveratrol three times a week lowered blood sugar levels by stopping interference by free radicals on the action of insulin. Resveratrol did not force the pancreas to make more insulin, but it helped the insulin the body did make work better.

Resveratrol is found in red wine, but there is so little resveratrol in red wine that most supplements use resveratrol extracted from a plant called Chinese polygonum, also known as knotweed. There is no way you can drink enough red wine that resveratrol will have a measurable effect on blood sugar levels.

Scientists at the Christian Doppler Laboratory for Receptor Biotechnology in Vienna, Austria, however, have found other chemicals in red wine that also have substantial effects on insulin sensitivity, ellagic acid and epicatechin gallate (also known as ECG). These naturally occurring plant chemicals make red wine positively medicinal for diabetics and their effects on blood sugar levels are hundreds of times the effect of resveratrol.

Ellagic acid and epicatechin gallate activate peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (also known as PPAR-gamma or PPARγ), a chemical that helps insulin enter cells. Increasing the activity of PPAR-gamma lowers blood sugar levels and in turn lowers triglycerides. It helps keep excess sugar out of the bloodstream without stimulating the higher levels of insulin that can cause hypoglycemia. And it also seems to help lower high blood pressure.

Milligram per milligram, these two red wine chemicals have about four times greater effect on PPAR-gamma than the popular diabetes drug rosiglitazone (Avandia), without the side effects. There are sufficient concentrations of ellagic acid and epicatechin gallate in some varieties of red wine that the wine is more effective for lowering blood sugar than a standard dose of Avandia. The Austrian research team found that just a single glass of some Austrian red wines had four times the effect of a standard dose of the diabetes drug.

One glass of red wine a day usually does about as much good as taking one 30-milligram tablet of Avandia. Different varieties of red wine will have different concentrations of ellagic acid and epicatechin gallate, but since the effect is on insulin sensitivity rather than on insulin production, there is no risk that opening a new bottle will have adverse effects on diabetes care.

Don't drink red wine if your doctor has instructed you to avoid alcohol. And don't start drinking red wine to help control your blood sugars if you are already on Avandia. The combination of effects of Avandia and red wine, if you are not already a regular drinker, may be detrimental to liver health.

  • Brasnyó P, Molnár GA, Mohás M, Markó L, Laczy B, Cseh J, Mikolás E, Szijártó IA, Mérei A, Halmai R, Mészáros LG, Sümegi B, Wittmann I. Resveratrol improves insulin sensitivity, reduces oxidative stress and activates the Akt pathway in type 2 diabetic patients. Br J Nutr. 2011 Aug
  • 106(3):383-9. Epub 2011 Mar 9.