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As a Franco-American woman there aren’t many things in this world that I love more than a glass of dark dry red oaky wine. I’ve been drinking wine since I was about 4 years old actually. My French grandfather, my Bon Papa, used to fill up my little glass at the lunch table with a mix of water and wine. And I remember just feeling so grown up that he would include me in this ritual, because that’s what wine was, and still is, in my family. It’s part of our dining ritual. We spend hours at the dinner table drinking wine, eating cheese, talking…and these are some of my favorite moments.
But, as I’ve been on my own personal hormone healing and health journey, one of the things I couldn’t help but be curious about was how alcohol was impacting my hormones and my overall health. So, I did a bit of digging and came up with some pretty interesting findings which I am going to be sharing with you in this episode. Today we’ll be exploring how alcohol impacts your hormones, what foods you should eat before you drink, whether or not red wine is actually healthy, the connection between alcohol and weight gain, and more! Press play to tune-in!
Note: Special thanks to Kathleen Robins, RDN, and founder of Kathleen Robins Nutrition, for reviewing this episode for accuracy!
What happens in our bodies when we drink alcohol?
In order to understand how alcohol impacts our hormones I felt it would be helpful to kick things off with a small science lesson — what is alcohol and how does it impact our bodies?
The active ingredient in alcohol is a simple molecule called ethanol which affects our bodies in many different ways. According to Harvard Health this molecule, which is absorbed directly into your bloodstream through the tissue lining of the stomach and small intestine, “directly influences the stomach, brain, heart, gallbladder, and liver. It affects levels of lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) and insulin in the blood, as well as inflammation and coagulation. It also alters mood, concentration, and coordination.” Hence why you should never drink and drive.
Basically, when you drink alcohol it alters the way your body is “supposed” to work. Alcohol impacts the functions of the glands that release hormones and the functions of the tissues targeted by the hormones.
For example, insulin and glucagon, two hormones secreted by the pancreas, work together to maintain a constant concentration of glucose, aka sugar, in our blood. FYI, insulin helps to lower glucose levels, while glucagon helps to raise it. Drinking alcohol unfortunately, interferes and affects both of these, along with other blood sugar regulating hormones.
How alcohol impacts your hormones
Did you know women and men absorb and metabolize alcohol differently? It has to do with the water and fat composition in our bodies. In general, women have less water and more fat, which tends to retain alcohol, then men of similar body weight. Meaning, if we as women drink the same amount of alcohol as men, typically we’re going to have higher concentrations of alcohol in our bloodstream. Not to mention, as hormone expert, Alissa Vitti, shares, “we metabolize alcohol at a slower rate than men which means the physical impact of alcohol is much stronger and faster for women than for men.”
This is in part due to the fact that women produce less of the enzyme, known as alcohol dehydrogenase, or ADH, that helps to break down alcohol in the liver and stomach, explains Dr. Robert Shmerling, MD, a Senior Faculty Editor at Harvard Health. Basically, because the alcohol in a woman’s body isn’t broken down as efficiently as in a male’s body, more alcohol enters a woman’s bloodstream and thus her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels increase.
Alcohol’s impact on testosterone and estrogen levels
In addition, alcohol consumption can also temporarily increase testosterone and estrogen levels in women.
An increase in testosterone, can disturb normal female cycling while an increase in estrogen, shares Alissa Vitti, “can potentially worsen symptoms of PCOS, fibroids and endometriosis – and any estrogen-dominant hormonal health issue for that matter.” Too much of either can exacerbate PMS symptoms, especially mood swings and irritability in women.
Basically, we need a proper balance between testosterone and estrogen for our ovaries to work normally.
Another fun fact I learned was that alcohol consumption can also impact the balance of prostaglandins which can worsen cramps. Prostaglandins if you recall from my chat with Krista King in episode 63, are those hormones that stimulate muscle contractions in the uterus, amongst other things. These muscle contractions help the body to shed the uterus lining. When prostaglandins are out of balance, not are you more likely to experience worse menstrual cramps but you’re also more likely to experience period poops.
Ok, so is a glass of wine every so often going to wreak havoc on your hormones?
Turns out the quantity of alcohol you consume has been found to make a difference. Moderate drinking, which is a fairly fluid term and usually refers to 1 drink per day, isn’t necessarily going to screw up your hormonal cycle, but studies have found that even one alcoholic drink can increase your estrogen levels by 10%.. So, yes, “the more alcohol you consume, the more likely you are to experience menstrual cycle irregularities,” shares Dr. Jolene Brighten.
But, it really depends on each individual.
As Alissa Vitti shares on floliving.com: “You have to take your own hormonal symptoms, their severity, and your overall diet into account when you make the choice to have a drink or two. If you’re at the very beginning of your healing journey then, just like with sugar, you are better off going cold turkey for two months at least and seeing how that affects you. If you’re trying to improve symptoms that are related to estrogen dominance then drinking alcohol frequently will slow your healing down.”
I explore this topic in more detail on the podcast, so click play if you want to learn more!
Red Wine and Heart Health
Does red wine help prevent heart disease? Maybe, maybe not. Red wine has been found to contain compounds known as polyphenols, more commonly known as antioxidants. One such polyphenol is a compound called resveratrol. According to Mayo Clinic, “resveratrol might help prevent damage to blood vessels, reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) and prevent blood clots.”
However, according to all the research I’ve come across, the evidence that drinking red wine can help prevent heart disease is pretty mixed and relatively weak. While some research shows that resveratrol could be linked to a lower risk of inflammation and blood clotting, shares Mayo Clinic, “other studies found no benefits from resveratrol in preventing heart disease.” Almost every study I’ve come across concludes with — more research needs to be done.
Good news? Red wine does contain more polyphenols than white wine. So, it’s not all bad!
Now, if you’re concerned about your polyphenol levels or concerned about your cardiovascular health, remember nothing beats a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Basically, there are other ways of obtaining your polyphenols than from drinking red wine. “You can get polyphenols from berries, chocolate, apples, nuts…all kinds of healthy foods,” shares registered dietician Kathleen Robins.
Press Play To Learn More
Want to learn more about alcohol impacts your hormones, why you should eat before you drink, the connection between alcohol and weight gain? Well, what are you waiting for? Press play to tune-in now!
Note: If you or someone you love struggles with substance abuse please call Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information helpline/ Or reach out to your local Alcoholic Anonymous chapters by visiting aa.org.
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- How Alcohol Affects Your Hormones By Dr. Brooke Kalanick
- The 15 Best Foods to Eat Before Drinking Alcohol
- Here’s What Happens When You Mix Booze with Sex
- High Testosterone Levels in Women