For many perimenopausal women, alcohol is the go-to management strategy to take the edge off negative symptoms (or people). Women’s bodies are affected differently by alcohol than men’s, so it’s important to understand what those differences are.
Women metabolize alcohol differently than men for several reasons. These include having less water in our bodies to dilute the alcohol; fewer enzymes to digest the alcohol; smaller body size; and hormonal differences that may affect absorption. And as we age, we metabolize alcohol less efficiently so blood alcohol levels stay higher for longer.
A drink a day (one, not a tumbler full) can actually be heart protective, according to some studies, but more than that can affect hormone balance and potentially create long-term health problems. Let’s take a look:
Alcohol packs on the pounds. At 100+ calories or so per glass of wine…it’s easy to run up the calorie scoreboard. Do the math. Take the number of drinks you have per day and multiply by 365. Take that number and multiply by 100. Then divide by 3500. The result is the number of pounds you could lose over a year simply by not drinking. Plus, alcohol has no nutritional value, raises your cortisol level, and gets insulin out of whack… which contributes to further weight gain and a bigger muffin top. Excess fat produces its own estrogen and most perimenopausal women don’t need more little estrogen factories.
Bottom line: if you want to lose weight and keep estrogen in line, skip the booze. Really.
- Breast Cancer. Alcohol increases breast cancer risk. When you drink alcohol, your body breaks it down into a chemical called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde damages your DNA and prevents your body from repairing the damage. DNA is the cell’s “instruction manual” that controls a cell’s normal growth and function.
Bottom line: One drink per day increases your risk of breast cancer by 7%. Three drinks a day ups it to 51%.
- Insomnia. Alcohol use contributes to insomnia in 2 ways. One is an increase in cortisol production as blood sugar levels fall when the alcohol wears off in the middle of the night. The second is that alcohol disrupts sleep patterns (even though you may fall asleep more easily).
Bottom line: No sleep’s not cheap. Don’t drink within 2-3 hours of bedtime. Read more about the importance of good sleep here.
- Osteoporosis. Alcohol can increase the risk of osteoporosis by increasing parathyroid hormone (PTH) levels. This throws off the body’s calcium balance. In cases of chronic alcohol abuse, blood levels of PTH stay elevated which puts a strain on the body’s calcium reserves in bones.
Alcohol also inhibits the production of enzymes found in the liver and kidneys that convert the inactive form of vitamin D to its active form. This interference with the body’s vitamin D also affects calcium absorption.
Go here for more about the signs of osteoporosis.
Bottom line: Keeping your bones strong is incredibly important for overall health. Hip fractures in older women are a common cause of nursing home admissions and 1 in 5 people with a hip fracture die within a year. No thanks to that.
- Hot flashes. Many women report that alcohol is a trigger for hot flashes. Alcohol causes estrogen to rise. Then, once the alcohol has been metabolized, your estrogen level drops, and VOILA! Hot flash!
Bottom line: Hot flashes don’t happen to all women, but if they affect you, try cutting out alcohol to see if that helps. I’ve had clients completely banish hot flashes with this change ALONE.
- Alcoholism. More cases of alcoholism start in midlife women than at any other time of life. This is a big deal. Empty nest syndrome, loss of identity, divorce, and chronic health problems are just a few of the reasons women turn to alcohol to take the edge off of loneliness and pain.
Bottom line: Numbing behaviors may help temporarily, but drinking is a poor long-term Band-Aid. It wrecks lives and health if things get out of control. If you’re having trouble dealing with midlife transitions, get help. There’s no shame in that… remember, we’re all in this together.
Alcohol and hormone imbalances don’t play well together. Understanding the impact that alcohol has on your body is important. Once you know the risks, you can make better choices. Current recommendations for women are to limit intake to one drink or less per day with a maximum of seven drinks per week.
Dr. Anna Garrett is a menopause expert and Doctor of Pharmacy. She helps women who are struggling with symptoms of perimenopause and menopause find natural hormone balancing solutions so they can rock their mojo through midlife and beyond. Dr. Anna is the author of Perimenopause: The Savvy Sister’s Guide to Hormone Harmony. Order your copy at www.perimenopausebook.com.
Also, she offers a membership group, Hormone Harmony with Dr. Anna Garrett, which provides women in midlife with affordable expert guidance and community support.
Dr. Anna is available for 1-1 consultations. Find out more at www.drannagarrett.com/lets-