If you’re anything like most women in their menopausal or perimenopausal age, you’re juggling a lot of balls. Between work, family, and trying to keep your sanity intact, it can be hard to find time for yourself. So when you do finally get some downtime, it’s tempting to celebrate with a few drinks. But is that such a good idea? Here’s what you need to know about alcohol and menopause.
The Menopausal Body and Alcohol
How have you been taking care of yourself lately?
We all know alcohol can help take the edge off, but did you also realize it has some other effects on your body? The menopausal changes are happening whether we like them or not and sometimes one glass leads to two. It’s time for us women – who still need a little something at work each day – to make sure our needs come first.
It should come as no surprise women process alcohol differently than men. There’s a big difference between males’ and females’ metabolisms. It’s like apples and oranges. At around the age of 40, when estrogen and progesterone levels begin to decline, many of us start to realize there are consequences to drinking more than one glass of alcohol.
Symptoms of sleeplessness, headache, hangovers, and feeling depressed make it harder to enjoy alcoholic beverages without suffering negative consequences. Alcohol just doesn’t seem to have the same effect it once did. The negative effects of alcohol indeed then start to outweigh the rewarding feelings we once had, or that we were looking forward to.
The body, for one thing, has changed. Living on Earth for 40 years can be stressful. There are also a lot of toxins in the air and in the food we eat. Over time, all of these can add up and make your liver work harder than it should. Combined with hormonal changes, these cause the body to respond differently to alcohol.
You may wonder what alcohol actually does to us. There is nothing really healthy about alcohol since it’s not healthy food. It causes inflammation and oxidative stress in the body, but it’s especially in the liver. As is widely known, the liver is responsible for neutralizing alcohol. The liver sees alcohol as toxic, and it tries to process it as quickly as possible. After drinking, our levels of antioxidants go down and our levels of free radicals and inflammation go up. It is inflammation that contributes to the hangover symptoms. Moreover, inflammation is thought to be a contributing factor to the increased breast cancer risk.
Counterintuitive as it may sound, research has found two drinks each night can raise your chances of developing breast cancer. The risk is highest among women who are aged 40 or more.
An enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase converts alcohol to acetyl aldehyde, which can cause sweating, hot flashes, and nausea. This may be why, after having a few drinks, you wake up at 3:00 AM sweating and feeling dehydrated. You feel sick, and, needless to say, this disrupts sleep.
Brain and Memory
Hormones are affected by alcohol. In and around menopause, estrogen and progesterone levels begin to decline. We have estrogen receptors on many cells, including brain cells. Estrogen is neuroprotective, meaning it protects brain cells and helps with brain plasticity. When estrogen levels drop, the brain shrinks a bit. This can sometimes lead to some of the common short-term memory loss that happens during menopause. Essentially, estrogen protects brain cells from oxidative stress, inflammation, and damage. Estrogen protects the female brain from the neurotoxic effects of alcohol.
Conversely, the drop in estrogen levels starting in perimenopause makes us more susceptible to alcohol’s effects. Oxidative and cellular damage from alcohol kills brain cells. Alcohol can also affect brain chemistry and moods.
I often hear, “Dr. Purcell, I think alcohol is affecting my sleep.”
Yes, you’re probably right. Alcohol impairs the signaling of the neurotransmitter GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric acid), which is a calming and inhibitory neurotransmitter, therefore reducing the calming effects of GABA. It takes time to bring it back into balance and regain normal levels of GABA. This causes brain agitation and can result in disrupted sleep as the liver is trying to process the alcohol.
In addition, alcohol relaxes our throat muscles, which in turn promotes snoring. This may seem like a minor issue, but it can have a major impact on our quality of sleep. And when we don’t get enough quality sleep, it can lead to all sorts of problems.
Alcohol directly irritates the stomach lining and causes inflammation. It can increase stomach acid production, which is irritating and leads to nausea. With all of this excess liquid in your stomach, you may find yourself snacking on starch-rich foods to “mop up” the fluid.
There are bioactive chemicals in alcoholic drinks, formed during fermentation. This leads to bloating, gas, and distension. They do tend to be the highest in beer, wine, and whiskey, and the lowest in clear distilled spirits.
In conclusion …
In order for alcohol to be broken down and processed through your body, it needs a healthy liver as well as adequate hormone levels. Metabolizing a single molecule of alcohol requires B vitamins and zinc. If any one or more of these components are lacking, then you will experience some negative side effects from drinking too much.
It’s important to understand how alcohol can interact with your changing body. Although moderate drinking is usually fine during this time, it’s worth noting that alcohol can exacerbate symptoms like brain fog, memory problems, sleep issues, and stomach upset.
If you want to continue enjoying an occasional drink while transitioning through menopause, be sure to eat plenty of B vitamins and zinc-rich foods to help your liver metabolize the alcohol. And if you have any questions or concerns about how alcohol might be impacting your health during menopause, we’re here to help. Schedule a discovery call today to discuss your unique situation and get personalized advice on managing menopause and alcohol.
If you are experiencing menopausal symptoms, it is important to be aware of how alcohol can exacerbate the symptoms. If you’re looking for more information or have questions we’d be happy to schedule a discovery call with you. During this call, we can discuss your symptoms in more detail and come up with a plan tailored specifically for you.
If you haven’t joined our Private Facebook Group, please go HERE.
DISCLAIMER: The information in this email is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content is for general informational purposes only and does not replace a consultation with your own doctor/health professional