What is the Liver’s Role and Blood Sugar Management?

liver's role in blood sugar controlThe link between the liver and blood sugar management actually has a lot to do with your mother. Did your mother ever tell you: “Don’t drink (alcohol) on an empty stomach.” While there may be a variety of reasons for this advice, your liver and how it processes glucose is a key part of it.

However, most people are not even aware that this link exists. Let’s take a look at how this works.

As you may know, we get our energy from food. The energy from the food is absorbed into the blood as glucose (blood sugar).

The glucose travels through the blood to the body’s individual cells and is converted to energy.

Sometimes we eat more food (energy) than we need, so the extra glucose is stored in muscle, the liver and fat as a substance called glycogen.

Between meals our blood glucose (sugar) drops and our body needs access to some of this stored energy. Glucogen, a hormone made in the pancreas, signals the liver to break down or convert some glycogen into glucose for the needed energy.
Liver and Blood Sugar Management

Pretty straight forward. However, one problem for diabetics is the effect of alcohol on this process.

Alcohol is treated by the body as a poison and seeks to rid itself of the alcohol as quickly as possible. The liver is responsible for cleansing alcohol from our system and prioritizes this function almost over all other functions, including the release of stored glucose into the blood.

Thus, diabetics can develop hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) because the liver is not releasing enough of the stored blood glucose.

So, what is the moral of the liver and blood glucose story?

Listen to your mother and “don’t drink alcohol on an empty stomach”. Better yet, maybe don’t drink alcohol at all? I’ll leave that between you and your mom.


National Institute of Health, nih.gov, Hypoglycemia, NIH Publication No. 093926 October 2008.
By Erich Schultz – Last Reviewed December 2012.