Menopause & Alcohol – Is A Wee Tipple Harmful or Helpful?

Menopause-and-alcohol

Let’s talk about menopause and alcohol for a few minutes.

One of the things we hear often from women who want help with perimenopause / menopause symptoms is:

“I can’t live without my wine.”

We get it! 

A glass or two of your favourite tipple after a tough day at work or when the kids have gone to bed is a way to decompress.

Menopause & Alcohol Intolerance

But when it comes to menopause and alcohol that glass of vino may not be your BFF.

At least not when you’re in what we term ‘triage’ – a time when you’re trying to bring your hormones into balance and kick symptoms to the kerb.

Indeed, alcohol can sometimes magnify everything from hot flushes to mood swings to anxiety and sleep disorders for some women.

And therein lies the rub: for some women.

Because just like menopause, everyone’s alcohol tolerance is different.

Certainly many women we talk to say they can’t tolerate alcohol the way they once did. Furthermore, if they do imbibe they know they’ll suffer the consequences.

Men, Women, Menopause & Alcohol

As a woman, your sensitivity to alcohol is often more pronounced than it is for men. This is because women are usually smaller and our bodies process alcohol differently.

For starters, females have less alcohol dehydrogenase which are enzymes that break down alcohol in the liver and stomach. Additionally, the alcohol dehydrogenase is far less active in women’s livers and we also have a higher bodily fat/water ratio. What’s more, as we grow older our bodies hold less water.

That water loss is clearly visible in your skin which can look less plump. And lack of hydration is one reason alcohol intake can make your skin look drier and you might feel not-so-good the following day.

As a result of these factors, your alcohol levels rise more quickly than they do for men and the lower water volume impedes the way you dilute it.

Perimenopause, Menopause, Post-Menopause & Alcohol

Menopause-and-alcohol

The truth is that when it comes to menopause and alcohol there’s conflicting science.

Your changing hormonal levels affect everything you drink and eat when it comes to your liver and digestive processes. Additionally, one of the liver’s jobs is to detoxify excess estrogen. Alcohol is a toxic substance so the liver must prioritise it but the detoxifying liver action of your youth isn’t as functional. Therefore, your liver may not process the alcohol as well.

Additionally, alcohol is a well-known dehydrator that we’ve found increases menopause symptoms. That said, this is purely anecdotal and based on observation rather than research.

Likewise, we’ve noticed that the inflammatory effects of alcohol can increase the joint pain that many of you struggle with. Moreover, it also robs us of some of much-needed nutrients such as vitamin B, magnesium and zinc. Alcohol is also linked to bladder sensitivity so if you suffer from UTIs you’ll want to avoid it.

Consequently, mixing menopause and alcohol can become quite damaging for women. However, not always. According to The International Menopause Society light to moderate drinking (in some instances) can be helpful but heavy drinking is risky.

And that’s why perimenopause / menopause and alcohol don’t always mix well.

Menopause & alcohol has been linked to:

  1. Sleep disruption – alcohol raises estrogen and cortisol levels and disrupts the circadian rhythm
  2. Cancers of the mouth, oesophagus, liver and colon. Especially breast cancer when you drink more than two standard drinks per day
  3. Hot flushes and night sweats – the jury’s out on this with contradictory data but dilated blood vessels caused by drinking alcohol are believed to be a potential trigger
  4. Depression/anxiety – alcohol affects the central nervous system and initially, it can make you feel calmer. But as the body processes it, it may interfere with mood regulators like serotonin and norepinephrine and increase feelings of depression and anxiety
  5. Hypertension – light drinking has been associated with cardiovascular health however heavy drinking adversely affects it
  6. Bone health – light to moderate drinking may help bone density but heavy drinking may increase the risk of falls. Surprisingly, one study found that low-alcohol beer was bone protective for women
  7. Type 2 diabetes – moderate drinking increases insulin sensitivity leading to a lower risk of diabetes. However heavier drinking can increase the risk

Menopause & alcohol – how much should you be drinking?

This comes down to bioindividuality and how much we drink.

For example, light to moderate drinking (1-2 glasses) may have some benefits. However, in some cases, no amount of drinking or heavy drinking (more than two glasses) is safe in midlife.

So there’s good news and bad news.

Alcohol guidelines

It’s a good idea to keep track of how much you’re drinking as many glasses are far bigger than a standard drink.

One standard drink contains 10g of alcohol.

New Zealand’s Health Promotion Agency advises:

  • Two standard drinks a day for women
  • No more than 10 standard drinks a week
  • At least two alcohol-free days every week

Click here for a Guide To Standard Drinks from alcohol.org.nz

Click here for Australian guidelines from the National Health and Medical Research Council

menopause-and-alcohol
Photo by Kelsey Chance @unsplash

8 Good Drinking Habits To Consider

  1. Incorporating alcohol-free days (AFDs) into your week.
  2. Some of the many no-alcohol options available (always look at the sugar content).
  3. Go for organic which contains fewer additives that mess with your hormones.
  4. Red wine is higher in polyphenols and resveratrol than white wine.
  5. If you’re a spirit girl avoid mixers that can be full of sugar. For example, tonic water is super high in the sweet stuff.
  6. Hydrate. It’s an old rule and good advice for any age to match every glass of wine with a glass of water.
  7. Never drink on an empty stomach. This is always important but when you become more alcohol sensitive it’s even more so.
  8. Nix the nightcap. While it may help send you off to sleep you could find your hard-working liver wakes you around 2am while it works to metabolise it

Summary

Just as every woman’s journey through menopause is different, the same is true of how you process alcohol.

If you’ve come through perimenopause and are into post-menopause the general evidence shows that perimenopause symptoms should decrease. However, if you’re still experiencing symptoms such as hot flushes or bladder issues and having your daily tipple the alcohol could be the culprit.

Research is showing that women are drinking more making them more vulnerable to side effects.

We’d suggest avoiding it for at least three weeks to give your liver a rest and diminish symptoms. Subsequently, after things even out you can enjoy the odd glass.

Much more research is needed but the advice for your best health and your best menopause appears to be to keep your daily quota to one drink.

Need help with hormonal balance? Click here for 40+ and 55+.

Go Non-Alcoholic

There are some delicious and low sugar alcohol-free alternatives available now such as Ecology and Seedlip from non-alcoholic specialists Freasy and Australia’s Grapeful.

The new brand on the Kiwi block is Terps&Co which uses terpenes from plants and flowers to create similar tastes to whiskey, rum, gin and vodka.

Margarita Mocktail

Menopause-and-alcohol
  • 3 tbsp Terps & Co. tequila-style
  • 1 cup sparkling water
  • 1 tbsp lime or lemon juice
  • Optional – a dash of grated orange zest or natural orange extract.
  • Crushed/shaved ice
  1. Take a beautiful glass and rub the rim with lime or lemon and dip it in a saucer of salt to create a salty trim.
  2. Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker or blender and shake or whizz.
  3. Enjoy!

You can find more recipes on the Ecology website here.

Disclaimer: Our articles are a guideline only. Any signs and symptoms you are experiencing could be due to a number of reasons. For this reason, this should not take the place of medical advice. If you’re experiencing ongoing signs please see your health professional.

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Post-menopause


This is the time when menstruation is well and truly over, the ovaries have stopped producing high levels of sex hormones and for many ladies, perimenopause symptoms subside.

Estrogen has protective qualities and the diminished levels mean organs such as your brain, heart and bones become more vulnerable. It’s also a key lubricant so your lips may become drier, your joints less supple and your vagina might be drier. In addition, your thyroid, digestion, insulin, cortisol and weight may alter.

At this juncture, a woman might experience an increase in the signs of reduced estrogen but she should have a decrease of perimenopause symptoms. That said, some women will experience symptoms like hot flushes for years or even the rest of their lives.

Perimenopause

Peri = ‘near’

Most females begin to experience the symptoms of perimenopause in their mid-forties. Your progesterone levels decline from your mid-30s but it’s generally from around 40 that the rest of your sex hormones begin to follow suit. 

Perimenopause is a different experience for every woman and some women may barely notice it. The first indicators are usually changes to the monthly cycle. This means that for some ladies, this can be accompanied by things like sore breasts, mood swings, weight gain around the belly, and fatigue as time goes on.

For those with symptoms it can be a challenging time physically, mentally and emotionally.

Importantly, perimenopause lasts – on average – four to 10 years. The transition is usually a gradual process and many women enter perimenopause without realising.