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Alcohol Alters Insulin Levels

Study: Wine after carb-heavy meal causes drop in vital hormone

FRIDAY, Nov. 21, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Kicking back with a few glasses of wine after dinner may be relaxing, but it might not be so good for your health, say Australian researchers.

In a study in the November issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, researchers found drinking the equivalent of three glasses of white wine after eating a carbohydrate-laden meal caused insulin levels to drop.

Insulin is a hormone necessary for the body to process sugar (glucose) and starches. Without enough insulin, the body's cells don't get the energy they need, the researchers say. People with diabetes either don't produce any insulin or don't produce sufficient levels of the hormone. A lack of insulin is one cause of diabetes. Normally, when you consume food, your blood glucose levels immediately rise and, in response to that rise, the body produces insulin to process the glucose.

"[Our findings] suggest that drinking white wine on its own after a meal may alter glucose metabolism and produce a pseudo-diabetic condition," says study author Anna Kokavec, a research psychologist affiliated with La Trobe University in Bundoora, Australia. "There is possibly no safe level of white wine consumption and this may extend to other commercially available alcohol products. Furthermore, white wine is probably not a product that should be recommended for consumption by diabetics."

Others aren't convinced, however.

"There is nothing in this study that is relevant to advice that physicians should give their patients about the consumption of white wine," says Dr. Kenneth Hupart, chief of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, N.Y.

Kokavec and her colleagues recruited eight nondiabetic males between the ages of 19 and 22 years for this study. All were admitted binge drinkers. None were obese.

The researchers had the volunteers eat non-vegetarian pizza -- the study does not specify how much pizza each person consumed -- and drink a nonalcoholic soft drink. Then they were asked to drink three average-sized glasses of wine slowly over 90 minutes.

Blood glucose and insulin levels were measured before the study participants ate and then again at 45 minutes, 90 minutes and 135 minutes after eating.

Insulin levels dropped quickly after the consumption of wine, in some cases to a very low level, Kokavec says. Glucose levels also dropped.

Hupart points out that insulin and glucose levels normally drop off as a meal is processed by the body. He suggests a better measure of how alcohol affects insulin and glucose levels would be to compare these levels in people who drink wine after a meal to people who don't.

"This study does not show any effect that is medically relevant," he adds.

Kokavec, however, says that "any disruption in energy metabolism or utilization could have serious consequences to the health of the individual. The efficient regulation of insulin is vital in meeting the energy needs of cells located largely outside the brain and any disregulation in insulin could lead to some cells being starved of energy, which could cause serious disease."

Hupart does say it's wise for people with diabetes to limit their alcohol consumption, especially people who are taking medications to control their diabetes. Hupart suggests discussing your alcohol consumption with your doctor.

More information

To learn more about how alcohol affects people with diabetes, visit the American Diabetes Association or the Joslin Diabetes Center.

SOURCES: Anna Kokavec, Ph.D., research psychologist, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Australia; Kenneth Hupart, M.D., chief, endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism, Nassau University Medical Center, East Meadow, N.Y.; November 2003 Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
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