Page last updated: Wednesday, November 19, 2008
How heavy alcohol use can cause hypoglycemia in diabetics
Scientists at the leading Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet have researched how heavy alcohol use may cause exaggerated insulin secretion resulting in severe hypoglycemia. This mechanism, explains how alcohol ingestion may harm the human brain by decreasing the blood glucose concentration to inappropriately low levels.

Hypoglycemia induced by alcohol ingestion is a well known clinical problem in diabetic patients. However, the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon have largely remained elusive. Since insulin secretion can be rapidly tuned by changes in pancreatic microcirculation, scientists at the Stockholm South Hospital Diabetes Research Center, Karolinska Institutet, evaluated the influence of alcohol administration on pancreatic islet blood flow and dynamic changes in insulin secretion and blood sugar levels.

The researchers found that alcohol exerts substantial influences on pancreatic microcirculation by evoking a massive redistribution of pancreatic blood flow from the exocrine into the endocrine (insulin-producing) part via mechanisms mediated by the messenger molecule nitric oxide and the vagus nerve, augmenting late phase insulin secretion, and thereby evoking hypoglycemia.

According to Professor Sjöholm the discovery is very important. This novel mechanism may in part underlie the well known hypoglycemic properties of alcohol in diabetic patients or in alcoholics with hepatic failure.

Source: Zhen Huang, and Åke Sjöholm. “Ethanol acutely stimulates islet blood flow, amplifies insulin secretion, and induces hypoglycemia via NO and vagally mediated mechanisms” Endocrinology (2008); 149: 232-236.

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