Many adults can attest to enjoying a glass of red wine from time to time — and people with diabetes may choose to continue enjoying red wine as a part of their routine. “I drink it on a regular basis, and my blood sugar levels (A1C) are always between 5.7 and 7,” one member of DiabetesTeam shared.
But some people — especially those with type 1 and type 2 diabetes — find themselves curious about the positive or negative health impacts of drinking red wine. For example, are there any specific health benefits to drinking red wine when you have diabetes? And are there any specific concerns that you should know about when drinking red wine?
The research shows that there are some benefits — but also some important concerns — that people living with diabetes should be aware of when it comes to red wine.
Researchers have identified several ways people living with diabetes may benefit from drinking red wine. Among them, red wine may help control blood sugar levels, improve insulin sensitivity, reduce heart disease risk, boost “good cholesterol” levels, and prevent other health conditions.
Red wine contains compounds called polyphenols. Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants that can boost your immune system and offer protection against chronic (long-lasting) diseases. Some studies suggest that polyphenols, such as those found in red wine, may also help stabilize blood sugar levels.
In one review from 2016, researchers explored the potential benefits of dietary polyphenols on blood sugar control. They found that polyphenols may change the way the body digests and absorbs glucose, which may improve blood sugar level management.
One DiabetesTeam member shared how red wine seems to help with their fasting blood sugar (FBS) levels when they wake up. “FBS was 89 this morning,” they said. “It seems that a small glass of red wine in the evening helps with that.”
Still, it’s important to remember that even though a glass of red wine at night may help one person’s blood sugar, it may not necessarily have the same effect on yours.
Insulin sensitivity is the body’s natural response to the hormone insulin. Insulin is responsible for helping your cells properly take in and use glucose. According to the American Diabetes Association, insulin resistance — a feature of both prediabetes and type 2 diabetes — develops in people with impaired insulin sensitivity.
A review in 2022 explored the metabolic impact of resveratrol — one of the polyphenols in red wine — on obesity and insulin resistance. According to the review, several studies show resveratrol has a positive effect on multiple health indicators in people with type 2 diabetes, including insulin sensitivity and inflammation. However, the researchers noted that other research on the subject shows mixed results and that more research is recommended.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, people who live with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing heart disease. Heart disease is an umbrella term for different heart-related conditions, like coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure.
In one review, researchers reviewed the available literature on red wine intake and cardiovascular health. According to the authors, red wine polyphenols have been shown to increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) — also known as “good cholesterol” because of the heart-healthy benefits it provides. In addition, these compounds may also reduce insulin resistance and oxidative stress — which may place the body more at risk of chronic diseases — both of which may affect heart health.
There are two main types of cholesterol we think of regarding heart health: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and HDLs. LDL cholesterol is often associated with an increase in conditions like heart attack and stroke. HDL cholesterol has a cardioprotective benefit — meaning that it helps reduce your cardiovascular risk.
A review published in 2019 explored the effects of moderate red wine consumption on heart health risk factors in people with diabetes. According to the results of the review, participants who drank moderate amounts of red wine had significantly higher levels of HDL than participants who did not drink red wine. However, the authors noted, given the nature of the studies included in the review — which varied in their approach and study population — more research is needed to explore these potential benefits.
As we age, we become more at risk for developing chronic health conditions, like heart disease, cancer, cognitive problems, and more. But one way to reduce this risk is by making positive lifestyle changes — including incorporating more beneficial compounds into your diet, such as the polyphenols found in red wine.
In a 2018 review in the journal Diseases, researchers took a look at some of the recent evidence about the health benefits of moderate red wine intake. Many of the studies in the review found potential associations between moderate red wine intake and a lower risk of not only cardiovascular diseases — but also cognitive decline, depression, and possibly even cancer. Several studies suggest that drinking red wine lowers blood pressure as well.
Although researchers have discovered that red wine may have several potential health benefits for people living with diabetes, they’ve also discovered some drawbacks. Among them, it can raise or lower your blood sugar levels, raise your risk for a complication called ketoacidosis, elevate your blood pressure, increase your triglycerides, and put you at risk for other health conditions.
If you take insulin for diabetes, you know how important it is to take the correct dosage to avoid hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) — especially when you have type 1 diabetes. But drinking too much alcohol can also potentially cause hypoglycemia, especially in people with diabetes.
Here’s why: Your liver is responsible for many different functions. Not only does it release glucose into your bloodstream, but it also processes alcohol for your kidneys to dispose of. When you drink alcohol, your liver prioritizes processing it over maintaining your blood sugar, which can place you at risk for low blood sugar. The intoxicating effects of alcohol can make you less aware of symptoms of low blood sugar, such as confusion or sweating.
But it’s not just hypoglycemia that you need to be careful of while drinking. Although red wine can be low in sugar, some sweet red wines can have upwards of 85 to 130 grams of sugar per liter — which equates to as much as 12 to 20 grams of sugar in a 5-ounce serving. If you drink too much sweet red wine, you may end up significantly raising your blood sugar levels.
A complication called diabetic ketoacidosis can happen when your body doesn’t have enough insulin for your cells to use the available glucose for energy. When your cells can’t use glucose for energy, your body uses fat for energy instead. This produces an overabundance of ketones — a chemical your liver produces to break down fats — which turns the blood acidic.
Drinking too much alcohol can place people with diabetes at risk of developing diabetic ketoacidosis. This may happen for a variety of reasons, like being too intoxicated to remember to take your insulin or being dehydrated because you didn’t drink enough water.
Living with diabetes means that you are roughly twice as likely to develop high blood pressure, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. And although research has suggested that some red wine may lower your risk for conditions like high blood pressure, drinking too much red wine can do the opposite.
A 2020 review of more than 760 healthy and hypertensive participants investigated the effects of drinking alcohol on blood pressure levels. As opposed to moderate alcohol consumption, drinking large amounts of alcohol seems to increase both systolic blood pressure and heart rate for hours after drinking.
Although drinking red wine can have a positive impact on your cholesterol, too much red wine can have a negative impact on cholesterol levels. More specifically, drinking too much alcohol has been shown to lead to high triglyceride levels (excess fat in the blood).
Research from 1998 published in Alcohol Health and Research World explained that when people with diabetes develop high triglyceride levels from drinking alcohol, they can develop serious complications. For example, high triglycerides can cause inflammation of the pancreas, which can make it difficult for the body to release insulin. In turn, this can lead to conditions like hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) or even diabetic ketoacidosis.
If you have diabetes, you’re at a higher risk of developing certain health conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This risk is much higher if your blood glucose levels aren’t properly controlled. And it’s not just heart disease or kidney disease — you’re also at risk of nerve damage, vision and hearing loss, and more.
Drinking alcohol, especially in large amounts, can greatly increase your risk of developing some of these complications. For example, research has shown that a high alcohol intake is one of the leading causes of neuropathy in people with diabetes. And of course, many of the studies mentioned above highlight some of the other risks of drinking too much alcohol when you have diabetes.
It’s also important to understand that because everyone’s alcohol tolerance is different, the amount of alcohol that causes symptoms can vary greatly. For example, some people can handle two full glasses of red wine at dinner, but others may experience side effects with even moderate drinking. “I have a small one now and again,” one DiabetesTeam member shared. “But more than one plays havoc with my numbers and tends to give me a headache.”
If you’re living with diabetes, it’s important to speak with your doctor about how things like alcohol might affect you — especially when you have other factors that can impact or change how your body processes alcohol. For example, if you’re taking certain diabetes medications or have co-occurring conditions like nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, your doctor will likely recommend that you avoid alcohol entirely.
However, if your doctor has given you the go-ahead to enjoy a glass of red wine here or there, here are some tips to do it safely.
According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, drinking in moderation means no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. When in doubt, less is always better.
Dry red wines have lower sugar content, while other types of alcohol — including sweet red wines — can have a much higher amount. When you have diabetes, it’s always recommended to go for dry red wines, whenever possible.
A glass of wine after a long day at work can be tempting, but if you haven’t had dinner yet, consider eating first. Drinking red wine with food can help reduce the impact it has on your alcohol and blood sugar levels. “I have a glass of red wine with tea/dinner,” shared one member of DiabetesTeam.
Studies have shown conflicting results on how red wine might affect people living with diabetes — such as whether it increases or decreases blood pressure. Consider checking a few times how a glass of red wine affects your blood pressure — say, 30 minutes afterward.
Finally, if you’re not already a fan of drinking red wine or any alcoholic beverage for that matter, don’t feel compelled to start drinking now. Although some research suggests red wine is beneficial for overall health, we still don’t know enough about the exact impact. Plus, there are better ways to enjoy some of those same benefits, like following a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.
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