Don’t get me wrong … I love a glass of Malbec on a cold autumnal evening, or maybe even a mulled wine as the nights draw in. A crisp Sauvignon Blanc always goes down well with a nice fish dish! Oh … and there’s nothing like pouring yourself a large glass of wine at the end of the day and hitting the sofa … its relaxing, calming and makes you feel just …
Well, that’s how it makes me feel! I can’t drink anymore; at least not if I want to feel well the next day. I still fancy a glass of wine with a meal, but I know I’ll suffer if I have one. For me, I’ve realised that it’s just not worth it.
And last night, I did suffer!
We were celebrating. My husband is 2 1/2 years clear of cancer! We went for the check-up yesterday; camera down the throat, careful examination, etc., and thank the universe, tickety-boo! This was definitely an occasion for celebrating and so we did, with a lovely meal and a nice glass of wine … and another one! I thought that one, then two glasses wouldn’t hurt; after all, I hadn’t had any alcohol in any shape or form for over a week, and then, that last time was only half a glass of bubbly at lunchtime to celebrate a friend’s birthday … bla bla bla!
So, I drank my glass of wine and then a few hours later I went to bed. I went out like a light. Apparently, this is common after drinking. Alcohol helps us to fall asleep quickly and also to sleep deeply for a while, but apparently, it reduces the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, which is said to be restorative.
So, at 02:00 precisely, I was wide awake; thirsty and needing a pee. I got up, did what I had to do and went back to bed, but I couldn’t get back to sleep! I must have dozed on and off until about 05:00 and then I woke with the alarm at 7.30 am. I felt dreadful. I had only had two glasses of wine, but I had a hangover! I was tired, restless, moody, and my head ached for the rest of the day.
So, what is this all about? Does alcohol really impact women’s health more at menopause?
- Both women and men become more sensitive to the effects of alcohol as they age. Our cartilage and tendons lose water so we are less able to dilute alcohol in our bodies.
- Alcohol can be a trigger for some menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes and night sweats. This is because the liver’s job is to deactivate hormones once they’ve done what they have to do, and if there are toxins in the body – like alcohol – which the liver is already trying to process, it may not be able to also process these hormones as effectively. Crudely put, we may then have an increased number of unwanted hormones – an imbalance of hormones if you like, in our system, which can trigger unpleasant symptoms such as hot flushes. And our hormones are already fluctuating madly during perimenopause, because of reducing oestrogen levels anyway!
- Two glasses of wine a day can slightly increase your risk of breast cancer. This is the same risk as if you were taking HRT! “There is good evidence, however, that breast cancer risk is higher in women consuming even low levels of alcohol (one unit per day), compared with abstainers, and there appears to be a significant association with total lifetime alcohol intake.” (British Menopause Society).
- The recommended limit for alcohol is 14 units a week for both men and women. Approximately 2 units per glass of wine, (175 ml = approx 2 units). There is evidence that suggests that drinking in excess of this can increase our risk of heart disease. Excessive drinking can raise blood pressure which can lead to heart attacks and stroke. It’s important to note that the rate of cardiovascular disease in women already increases after menopause, because of the decline in oestrogen levels in postmenopausal women.
- Our bodies convert alcohol sugars to fat. The impact of alcohol on our weight and blood pressure also being detrimental to our heart health.
- Over two units of alcohol per day is a risk factor for Osteoporosis. Alcohol reduces bone density (as does smoking). Around the time of menopause, bone loss is accelerated.
- Alcohol inhibits the absorption of nutrients into our bodies. And boy do we need those nutrients now more than ever to combat the deficiencies which occur as a result of decreasing oestrogen levels.
- Alcohol can affect our moods. The decrease in oestrogen can also cause mood swings, and alcohol can exacerbate this.
- Alcohol is a diuretic. This means it encourages the body to lose extra fluid and cause dehydration. So we wake up needing to pee and drink water. This disturbs sleep of course, which may already be disturbed because of hot flushing and night sweats. Alcohol can just make this so much worse, and sleep is important for restoring and maintaining our good health.
- Give your liver a break! It is recommended to have several, and at least two consecutive days, each week, alcohol-free to give your liver a rest. This statement alone makes me shudder, to think what we’re putting our livers through when we have a drink!
I now only have a glass of wine very rarely. Last night, and a week ago, were two of those rare times. It’s taken me a while to be able to give up the desire to accompany a meal with a glass of wine, but for me, the benefits outweigh the risks a hundredfold.
Drink substitutes I have tried …
Grape or elderflower juice with sparkling water, fruit juices, including spicy tomato with a slice of lemon, lime & soda and other fruit and/or flavoured water combinations. These are all good substitutes. There are non-alcoholic beers and wines available as well of course, but I haven’t found one that I yet enjoy drinking. Watch out for the sugar content in some of these non-alcoholic beverages though, sugar has a highly negative impact on our bodies which will also set our hormones reeling. I actually like just a glass of chilled, or boiled filtered water, adding a slice of lemon when I really want to splash out! Herbal and fruit teas are also delicious – but not all of them! Some, in my opinion, are quite revolting, but Peppermint and ‘Turmeric Gold’ are two which I find very palatable.
There are a wide range of herbal and fruit teas available and I have a drawerful of them, or you can make your own with fresh mint – bought or picked from the garden, or one with ginger, lemon and honey to stave off those colds or soothe sore throats during the winter months (honey is a sugar of course, so take heed). Of course, caffeine can play havoc with those hormones too, so be careful with tea and coffee, and whilst it has many other health benefits, remember that green tea also contains caffeine!
It can be fun concocting and trying out new drinks. This weekend I’m making mulled, non-alcoholic wine, using pomegranate and apple juice, spiced with cinnamon, cloves, orange peel, and a little black pepper for a bit of a kick – and an additional anti-inflammatory benefit. I’ll let you know how it goes, and even if it tastes like shit, at least I’ll still get a good night’s sleep!
If you are trying to give up alcohol and finding it difficult, or think you might be relying on too much, do seek help and advice. We all know that alcohol is addictive and may not be easy to give up, or even reduce. Some people reach for the bottle for all sorts of reasons, and it is difficult but important to try to find out why that is. There is a lot of help available for women and men, who have become dependant on alcohol for all sorts of reasons. If you are trying to reduce alcohol or give it up altogether, it is particularly difficult to do so on your own, without support, and especially with the lead up to Christmas and the New Year. Start now! Find the support you need, whether that is support from a friend, a family member or partner, or somebody who is unrelated and objective, who can counsel you appropriately.
For more additional information and support, the following links may be helpful: