According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the average South African consumes 11 litres of alcohol in a year – which is almost twice as much as the global average.
Out of 195 countries surveyed, South Africa ranked in the top 30.
There are also 3.5 million diabetics in South Africa and an estimated 2 million undiagnosed cases, according to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF).
These statistics combined with the alcohol sale regulations highlight the importance of awareness regarding alcohol consumption by diabetics or those who are at high risk of the condition.
Omy Naidoo, a dietician at Newtricion Wellness Dieticians, explained: “When you eat a meal your blood sugar level usually spikes up within two hours and drops after four hours. At this point, the liver releases stored glucose into the bloodstream to keep your sugar level up within the normal range.
“When you drink, ethanol – a substance found in alcohol – is toxic to the body. It, therefore, takes priority to be metabolised by the liver. During this process, the liver is unable to release glucose into the bloodstream, which causes hypoglycaemia ie low blood sugar level.
However, the real danger is that the symptoms displayed by a hypoglycaemic are very similar to that of a person who is intoxicated.
“You may slur your speech, wobble around, feel dizzy or weak. So if you’re having a night out with people and have a low blood sugar level, your mates may think you have just had too much to drink rather than thinking you are having a medical emergency,” added Naidoo.
Untreated low blood sugar level can cause seizures, loss of consciousness and even death.
There is a popular saying among diabetics: a high sugar level may be fatal over the year, but a low blood sugar level will kill you in a matter of hours.
If you are diabetic, the following tips may help minimise the risks associated with alcohol:
• Drink according to what experts recommend: two alcoholic drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. A single drink is the same as a single measure of a spirit, 330ml beer or a medium glass of wine.
• If taking medication such as insulin or tablets in the evening, try having a sober person around to assist you because intoxicated patients commonly end up using more insulin than usual.
• Exercise lowers your blood sugar levels, therefore heavy drinking and late-night dancing could increase your risk of hypoglycaemia.
• Work with a dietician to develop a plan on how you incorporate alcohol into your diet without compromising your health goals.
• Always wear a medic alert bracelet which states you are diabetic to alert people that you could be having a medical emergency rather than being intoxicated.