NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Drinking alcoholic beverages is known to lower blood sugar levels in diabetics and now new findings from an animal study shed light on the mechanisms involved, according to a report in the journal Endocrinology.
The findings show that alcohol produces “a massive redistribution of blood flow within the pancreas,” lead author Dr. Ake Sjoholm, from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, told Reuters Health.
Specifically, alcohol seems to send more blood to a region of the pancreas called the islets. The islets contain cells whose main function is to produce insulin, the key hormone that lowers blood sugar levels in the body.
Using various techniques, Sjoholm along with Dr. Zhen Huang, also from the Karolinska Institute, showed that pancreatic islet blood flow is increased by about fourfold in rats after an injection of ethanol. Overall blood flow to pancreas, by contrast, was not affected.
“The magnitude of the alcohol effect on islet blood flow surprised us,” Sjoholm said. The alcohol injection also led to increased insulin secretion, resulting in low glucose levels.
Further study showed that alcohol induced pancreatic blood flow changes by affecting a chemical called nitric oxide and the vagus nerve, a nerve responsible for sending many important signals in the body.
Sjoholm recommends that doctors advise their diabetic patients and patients with liver problems to be very careful with alcohol, especially if they are taking drugs to lower blood glucose, since these drugs may increase the effects of alcohol.
SOURCE: Endocrinology, January 2008.