Menopause can be a pretty trying time. If you want to treat yourself to a cocktail or swap symptoms over a bottle of wine with a friend, we get you, sister. So what’s the deal with alcohol and menopause?
But you may have heard that alcohol actually makes the symptoms of menopause worse. Is this for real? Is alcohol really bad during menopause (or, to be fair, worse during menopause than at another time)?
Let’s pop the cork on this one, and find out whether menopause and alcohol should ever go together.
In this article: 📝
- What happens during menopause and perimenopause?
- Is alcohol bad during menopause?
- Can alcohol make hot flashes worse?
- Alcohol consumption: moderate or excessive?
- Can alcohol affect hormone levels in menopause?
What happens during menopause and perimenopause?
Menopause is the slow decline in the hormones that control your fertility – estrogen, and progesterone.
The first stage – the perimenopause – begins much earlier than you might think, often in your late thirties.
As perimenopause really gets going, the (not particularly smooth) drop off in the amount of hormones your ovaries are making can put you through a rollercoaster of symptoms — hot flashes, night sweats, irregular sleep, mood swings, low libido, irregular periods, vaginal dryness, bloating, and even fatigue and brain fog – to name a few.
Then, when your menstrual cycle has stopped and you haven’t had a period for 12 months, you’ve reached menopause.
This usually happens in your late forties or early fifties. After that comes post-menopause, where, with luck, your symptoms will gradually take their foot off the gas.
Is alcohol bad during menopause?
Heavier drinking can affect women more during menopause, but the relationship between alcohol and menopause is not straightforward.
If you’ve noticed a link between menopause and alcohol intolerance, it might just be that your body is generally more sensitive to alcohol as you get older.
Women already have a lower tolerance for alcohol than men, simply because our bodies are generally smaller and we have naturally lower levels of alcohol-busting enzymes in our livers.
As we age, our bodies also lose more water volume (which could help to dilute the alcohol we consume).
Women also lose more bone mass than men as they age, so we become more at risk of falling – something that we all know is more likely to happen after a few glasses.
These are not necessarily linked to menopause, but they’re happening at the same time.
And then, there’s the question of a specific link between alcohol and certain menopause symptoms.
Can alcohol make hot flashes worse?
One of the most common symptoms of menopause, and one of the most well-known, is hot flashes.
No one enjoys hot flashes, so it’s no surprise that there’s a long list of home remedies and tips for avoiding them.
One of the most common things to hear is that alcohol and hot flashes go together – alcohol makes hot flashes worse, and they become more manageable the less you drink.
If you’re asking ‘why do I get hot flashes when I drink alcohol?’ it’s probably because of the way that alcohol affects your blood vessels.
Alcohol makes your vessels dilate (relax and open up). The same reaction that causes your cheeks to flush after a few drinks could be responsible for the feeling of heat all over your body – whether it’s happening while you’re awake, or at night in the form of night sweats.
For better or for worse though, it might not be that simple. To date, we don’t have conclusive evidence to show a link between how much you drink and how many hot flashes you have.
Some studies say alcohol can make hot flashes worse, while others have found that alcohol can relieve them. It seems to come down to how you personally react to alcohol.
One thing is for sure: drinking alcohol won’t help other menopause symptoms like insomnia, or mood swings.
Alcohol and menopause weight gain is also linked, simply because some of the most popular drinks contain so many calories.
So the best advice (for managing menopause symptoms and for your health in general) is to drink in moderation.
Alcohol consumption: moderate or excessive?
Menopause or no menopause, it’s important to note that there’s a distinction between ‘moderate’ and ‘excessive’ drinking.
It might be that your body can cope with a glass or two of alcohol on occasion, but your menopause symptoms flare up after a big night.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) defines moderate drinking as no more than seven drinks in a week and no more than three drinks in one day.
But before you reach for the Long Island iced tea, one drink is counted as:
- one glass of wine (around 5 fluid ounces),
- one can or bottle of regular beer (around 12 fluid ounces)
- one shot of spirits (1.5 fluid ounces)
Drinking more than this – eight or more drinks a week, or four or more drinks in one day – would be defined as excessive drinking.
Excessive drinking over the long term has been linked to increased risks of a pretty scary list of diseases, including:
- Most forms of cancer
- Liver and pancreas disease
- Coronary heart disease
- Organ damage
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Mental illness, including depression and anxiety
And, unfortunately, the science also seems to show that women are at higher risk of these conditions than men.
Coupled with the fact that some of these illnesses (especially type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure) are more likely to develop after menopause, it really might be that reducing the amount you drink each week is the best thing you can do for your health.
Can alcohol affect hormone levels in menopause?
Different studies have produced different answers to this question, so it’s not yet completely clear how alcohol and menopause hormones interact.
Does alcohol speed up menopause? Probably not.
Does alcohol make the symptoms easier to handle? Again, we’re not sure.
There does seem to be enough research to show that light to moderate drinking can actually increase the concentration of estrogen in your bloodstream.
This sounds like good news because, theoretically, this increase would counteract the menopausal drop in estrogen.
So far though, scientists haven’t been able to link this effect on estrogen to any direct change in menopausal symptoms.
The best advice we can give is to pay attention to your body’s signs and reactions and, if you notice yourself feeling worse than you’re used to after drinking, give yourself a breather.
After all, just like us, the wine will only get better with age.
📚 More on menopause:
Introducing, Peanut Menopause
How to Deal With Menopause
Unusual Menopause Symptoms You Might Not Know
Essential Oils for Menopause: What Helps?
What are the Signs Perimenopause is Ending?
Tea for Menopause: Which to Choose and Why
Evening Primrose Oil & Menopause: What’s the Story?
Do Natural Remedies for Menopause Help?
What’s a Helpful Menopause Diet?
Keto and Menopause: What to Know
Estrogen-Rich Foods to Eat During Menopause