Between sipping cocktails during festivities, toasting with champagne on parties and drinking beer while watching sporting events, alcohol often finds its way into our glasses and our bodies. When it comes to drinking alcohol, for anyone who can drink it safely, moderation is the key. Drinking too much alcohol—even for a completely healthy person—can cause heart disease, liver disease, high blood pressure and kidney disease, in addition to many other medical problems. Drinking too much alcohol can also impair judgment—and this could interfere with decision making related to remembering to take medicines and following fluid and diet guidelines.
Some of the downside effects of drinking alcohol can be:
- Increase in the chance of developing high blood pressure, which is the second leading cause of kidney disease
- Interference with medicines making it harder to control high blood pressure. Uncontrolled high blood pressure is more likely to damage kidneys.
- More frequent urination, which can lead to dehydration
- Preventing the kidneys from maintaining a proper balance of body fluids and minerals
- Damaging kidney cells hence changing the structure and function of the kidneys
Renal diets and alcohol
Moderate alcohol drinking may be okay for people with chronic kidney disease who are not on dialysis.However, it is best to first check with your nephrologist or renal dietitian to find out if alcohol is safe for you. If you are able to drink alcohol safely, your healthcare team will advise you on the types and amounts that are right for you.
If you are on dialysis, drinking alcohol may be allowable, but it must be counted within your normal fluid allowance and diet, and medicines must be taken into consideration. Talk to your doctor or renal dietitian before you drink to find out if alcohol will have a negative impact on your health.
For those with diabetes and chronic kidney disease alcohol may be safe to drink if you have your blood sugar level under control. After checking with your doctor or dietitian and getting the okay to drink, it is recommended that you drink with food or at mealtime. Alcohol on an empty stomach can cause blood sugar levels to drop in those with diabetes. Additional ingredients in mixed drinks may add carbohydrate that must be considered. You will also have to fit alcohol into your meal plan.
A few things to keep in mind when drinking alcohol:
- Your kidneys work hard to keep your body healthy and in a balanced state. Excessive alcohol intake can affect your kidneys’ abilities to maintain your fluid, electrolyte and acid-base balance. Alcohol can also have a negative impact on the hormones that control kidney function, as well as increase your blood pressure. High blood pressure can lead to kidney damage.
- Moderation is the key. You should always speak to your health care clinician or dietitian before consuming any alcohol, but for most, moderation is the key when it comes to drinking. The 2011 Dietary Guidelines for Indians states that people who regularly consume more than two alcoholic drinks (one equals about 30 ml of ethanol) are at a higher risk for hypertension and stroke.
The limits are usually different for men and women, because men usually weigh more and alcohol is processed differently by the sexes. Women tend to have a stronger reaction to alcohol. One reason is that women have less water in their bodies, so the alcohol becomes more concentrated. The risk for alcohol-related diseases (such as liver disease) is also higher in women than in men.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol can cause unwanted weight gain, which can potentially lead to, or worsen, diabetes. Diabetes is the most common cause of kidney failure. Speak to your doctor before consuming alcohol, but most people with diabetes can usually include alcohol in their diet in a moderate and responsible way. It is important to remember alcohol has no nutritional benefit, but it does have calories. It provides higher calories (7 Kcal/g) than carbohydrates and proteins and thus, can contribute to obesity. Make sure you take this into consideration when planning your daily menus. Alcohol can also cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) so you should not drink on an empty stomach or when your blood sugar might be low.
- Certain medications may have interactions with alcohol. Some medicines, both prescription and over-the-counter, may interact with alcohol. This interaction may cause the medicines not to work properly. There are other medicines that may cause your blood alcohol level to rise. Check drug labels and ask your pharmacist or doctor to review your medications to make sure alcohol will not be harmful with your medications.
- Composition of alcohol drinks
In addition to alcohol, calories and fluid, drinks containing alcohol must be evaluated for sodium, potassium and phosphorus content. Often the added ingredients in mixed drinks add undesirable amounts of these minerals.
To drink or not to drink
Drinking alcohol can generally be done safely in moderation, even if you have chronic kidney disease, polycystic kidney disease, end stage renal disease or diabetes. Take caution, however, if you have high blood pressure. Also, be aware of ingredients and nutrient content of the beverage you choose to drink. Always check with your doctor or renal dietitian to make sure it is safe for you to drink alcohol. They will also let you know the right amount for you, so that you can enjoy an occasional alcoholic beverage and stay safe and healthy.