Multiple research, related to the alcohol consumption, produce different results. You have probably heard that moderate drinking is good for your heart. But you have probably also heard from other articles in a popular media that alcohol increases risks for a breast cancer and that it may trigger hot flashes during menopause. While the data seems controversial, the leading determinant is dosage.
The most important thing is how much and how frequent you drink. The certain health benefits come with moderate drinking only. Starting with the Framingham Heart Study, big epidemiologic studies have shown that while moderate drinking has some benefits, drinking much more than that can be detrimental. More than two drinks per day and the negative effects begin to pile up, with increases in the rates of cancer, stroke, and more.
So, before we advanced in the topic, let’s define what considered to be a one drink as the measure of consumption. This is how the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) defines one standard drink:
- 5 fluid ounces (one glass) of wine (about 12% alcohol). So, don’t let your wine glass fool you—most hold much more than 5 ounces.
- 12 fluid ounces (usually one can or bottle) of regular beer (about 5% alcohol)
- 1.5 fluid ounces (one shot) of 80-proof distilled spirits
This is how the NIAA defines different levels of drinking for women:
- Light: less than one drink per day
- Moderate: one to two drinks per day
- Heavy: more than two drinks per day
For women, the NIAA puts its low-risk drinking limit at no more than seven drinks a week and no more than three drinks on any single day. Also, it is not a good idea for women to save their daily allowance for alcohol to consume them all on one occasion – this is referred to as binge drinking.
Why Moderate Drinking May be Good for your Health?
- Light to moderate drinkers have a significantly lower risk of coronary heart disease than nondrinkers. For women, the heart benefits of moderate drinking become apparent at menopause when their heart disease risk normally goes up, and the heart benefits continue after that. Hormone therapy doesn’t affect that benefit.
- Women who drink moderately have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Those who drink moderate amounts of alcohol, especially red wine, have a lower risk of dementia than those who don’t drink at all.
- Women who drink lightly or moderately have a lower risk of stroke than nondrinkers.
- At and after menopause (ages 50-62), women who drink moderately have stronger bones than nondrinkers.
- Midlife and older women who drink lightly or moderately have a lower risk of becoming obese than nondrinkers.
Alcohol Effect and Ageing
According to The North American Menopause Society, as women age, their tolerance for alcohol decreases. Studies show that men typically drink higher amounts of alcohol, but it is women who are more likely to suffer the consequences of drinking too much. Even moderate amounts of alcohol can produce more harmful effects in a woman’s body. Why? Women tend to be more affected by alcohol consumption for a number of possible reasons:
- Less body water to dilute the alcohol.
- Generally smaller body size.
- The inability to metabolize alcohol as efficiently as men.
Alcohol Abuse and Risk of Early Menopause
Over the past decade research has found that for many women the onset of alcohol abuse coincides with changes in hormone levels – changes that many women are unaware of in the early stages. When this is combined with other stresses in their lives – job changes, health concerns, children leaving home – women can find themselves abusing alcohol for the first time in their lives.
In their teens, 20s and 30s, the ovaries and adrenal glands produce a form of estrogen called estrodiol. Later, during their mid to late 40s and early 50s, the ovaries begin producing less estrogen, leaving more of the work to our adrenal glands. As the adrenal glands take over the job, estrogen drops, spikes and drops again—rather erratically. At this point, many women report that they start to get forgetful and experience “foggy thinking” and moodiness. That’s because the human brains work better when estrogen levels are steady. These are the first signs of menopause and, sometimes, the beginning of escalating alcohol consumption as a means of easing various unfamiliar discomforts.
While normal menopause is a gradual process that starts between the ages of 45 and 55, there are a number of things that can lead to this whole process starting earlier than normal, in other words – premature menopause. Sometimes these are a result of lifestyle choices that include the heavy drinking. Indeed, heavy alcohol consumption alone may hasten the onset of menopause by as much as five years.
Reasons for Alcohol Abuse during Menopause
There are a number of reasons for why women may turn to alcohol during menopause including:
- They may find that drinking before bedtime helps to cure their insomnia.
- Alcohol offers a temporary escape from worries and concerns. The woman who is going through menopause may view inebriation as their only means of escape from their discomfort.
- Alcohol can appear to help people deal with stress – at least in the short term.
- Those women who have always consumed alcohol heavily may increase their intake during this time.
- When people are dealing with symptoms of depression they can be tempted to turn to alcohol as a type of self medication – this is the worst thing they can do because this drug is a depressant.
- Women can suffer from low self esteem during this period of their life. There is a strong association between feelings of low self worth and substance abuse.
- For menopause and alcohol seeking, the studies point directly to family isolation. This means that while you are going through depression, not sleeping well, suffering from aches and pains, and all the other symptoms associated with the change of life, no one notices or cares enough to stand by you. In fact, many women are criticized by their own family members, hearing things like, “You’re just faking this to get attention.” As you can imagine, this is devastating, only making the problem of family isolation worse. Therefore, it is vital to your maintenance that you understand not everyone can deal with menopausal symptoms.
Dangers of Alcohol Abuse during Menopause
There are some real dangers associated with alcohol abuse during menopause including:
- Heavy drinking may eventually lead to alcoholism. When the individual becomes physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol it completely takes over their life and destroys everything of value.
- Alcohol abuse causes the symptoms of menopause to increase in severity. For example, drinking may trigger hot flashes for some women, however this experience is not universal and generic. Some studies find alcohol increases risk and severity of hot flashes, whereas others find the opposite.
- It will increase symptoms of depression. Alcohol has been found to lower serotonin and norepinephrine levels. Therefore, when alcohol wears off, you will be more depressed than ever. Women at menopause are especially vulnerable to depression, and heavy drinking can just make that worse. Heavy drinking itself can lead to depression, and women who show signs of alcoholism are two to seven times more at risk of developing depression than men.
- Alcohol abuse is strongly associated with suicidal thinking.
- Any amount of alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer. The increase in risk is there, but small, for women who drink one drink a day. Women who drink two to five drinks a day have about 1.5 times the risk of nondrinkers. The increased risk doesn't seem to have anything to do with alcohol’s effect on estrogen levels.
- Drinking alcohol increases the risk of many other cancers. The risk rises with the amount of alcohol consumed. And the risk rises higher if you smoke as well.
- Alcohol has harmful interactions with many medications, even ones you may not think about, such as medicines for arthritis, indigestion or heartburn, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and more.
- More than moderate drinking increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Among heavy drinkers, women are more susceptible to alcohol-related heart disease than men.
- Women who drink heavily are prone to central obesity—the apple shape that is a big risk for cardiovascular disease.
- Heavy drinking can lead to osteoporosis that cannot be reversed. It’s also a risk for fractures.
- Binge drinking increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Alcoholic women are more susceptible than men to key organ system damage, including heart muscle damage, nerve damage, cirrhosis, and possibly brain damage as well.
- Alcohol can help people sleep better at night, but it is not as restorative as natural sleep, and as a result the individual will not get as much benefit from it.
- Alcohol abuse leads to hangovers the next day, and this can make it harder to function.
- Alcohol may cause or intensify the social dysfunction in the family and may cause problems with friends.
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