Moderate alcohol (ETOH) intake has been associated with a significant reduction in risk for infarction among general populations. In this study, we assessed the effects of low-dose ETOH (40 g over 3-h period as vodka) on the interaction between glucose (G), insulin, and lactate (L) during the insulin-modified frequently sampled i.v. glucose tolerance test (FSIGT) (0.3 U/kg body weight between 20-25 min) in eight normal volunteers. In the control (C) study, water was administered. An insulin-independent two-compartment model was used to describe G and L kinetics. Insulin sensitivity (S(I)) was significantly higher in the ETOH study than in the C study (2.49 +/- 0.52 vs. 0.92 +/- 0.20 10(-4) min(-1)microU(-1)ml, C vs. ETOH; P = 0.0391). No significant differences were observed in G effectiveness (0.029 +/- 0.004 vs. 0.033 +/- 0.004 min(-1)). Blood L levels were higher during FSIGT when ETOH was administered [area under the curve (AUC), 201 plus minus 16 vs. 123 +/- 23 mmol/liter in 240 min; P = 0.0001]. The dynamic analysis of blood L concentrations showed that ETOH also significantly decreased L clearance (0.0016 +/- 0.0011 vs. 0.0029 +/- 0.0002 min(-1); P = 0.0156), whereas no difference was observed for the fractional conversion of the rate of G disappearance to L (0.0033 +/- 0.0012 vs. 0.0031 +/- 0.0005 min(-1)). ETOH decreased baseline plasma FFA concentration; AUC of FFA was markedly reduced with ETOH (65 +/- 14 vs. 109 plus minus 17 mmol/liter in 240 min; P = 0.0063) and inversely correlated with S(I) (r = 0.693; P = 0.0029). The amount of C-peptide in 240 min as well as the amounts before and after insulin administration were not different between the two tests. We concluded that G and L kinetics derived from FSIGT shows that moderate ETOH intake: 1) improves insulin action; 2) decreases L clearance; and 3) does not affect beta cell function. Because ETOH at moderate doses has a marked antilipolytic action, it might improve insulin action by improving substrate competition. The present findings suggest that moderate alcohol consumption in the diet should not be discouraged.