What happens during menopause?
Reaching menopause means a woman is no longer fertile, and she can’t conceive children. The average age of menopause is 51 years old, but some women go through menopause in their 40s.
The onset of menopause is associated with symptoms that can sometimes be uncomfortable. These symptoms are caused by low levels of reproductive hormones and may include:
- hot flashes
- night sweats
- mood swings
- painful intercourse
- decreased sex drive
- skin changes, such as itchiness
The lack of hormones during menopause also increase a woman’s risks for:
- broken bones
- bone loss (osteoporosis)
- heart problems
How does alcohol affect menopause symptoms?
A number of habits can affect the frequency and severity of menopause symptoms. Drinking alcohol appears to be one of them.
Women, men, and alcohol
As women (and men) age, their bodies become more sensitive to the effects of alcohol.
Your cartilage and tendons lose water as you age, which causes your body to hold less water. The more water in your body, the better your body can dilute alcohol.
Alcohol affects women more than men because they usually have a lower body weight. This means they absorb alcohol more quickly.
Women also have less of the alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) enzymes in their stomach. As a result, their bodies can’t handle alcohol as well.
Hot flashes and other symptoms
Some menopausal women might find that alcohol triggers their symptoms, while others find that it helps relieve their symptoms.
Drinking alcohol increases the risk of disturbed sleep, according to research. Red wine is also seen as one of the most common triggers of hot flashes.
One survey found that women who drank alcohol daily were much more likely to report hot flashes and night sweats.
On the other hand, a 2005 study and a follow-up study from 2007 concluded that alcohol could help bring relief from hot flashes.
Women who drank alcohol at least once a month were less likely to have hot flashes than women who abstained entirely. Their hot flashes were also less severe.
A 2015 study by a different research team also concluded that having at least one drink per day could help decrease your risk for hot flashes.
According to a 2017 literature review, the nutrients and hops found in beer may help to relieve hot flashes and other common symptoms.
However, clinical trials that look at the effects of beer consumption on menopausal women are needed. It’s also possible that nonalcoholic beer could provide the same benefits.
What do studies say about drinking during menopause?
Most women can still drink during menopause, just not to excess. Major research on the connections between women’s health and alcohol consumption during menopause is summarized below.
Benefits of moderate alcohol consumption
Moderate alcohol consumption for women is defined as up to one drink per day, according to the 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
A study from the United Kingdom suggests that moderate alcohol consumption may help decrease a menopausal woman’s risk for heart disease.
According to a South Korean study, it may lead to a significant boost in bone density.
Moderate drinking is also associated with a lower risk of:
- type 2 diabetes
Risks of excess alcohol consumption
A fine line separates a “moderate” amount of alcohol from too much alcohol.
Consuming two to five drinks a day during menopause is considered excessive and may harm a woman’s health, according to the North American Menopause Society.
Excess alcohol consumption during menopause is associated with an increased risk of conditions such as:
- heart problems
- liver disease
Increased cancer risk
Drinking any amount of alcohol is linked to an increased risk of certain cancers, including esophageal cancer, colorectal cancer, and female breast cancer.
This risk exists even for women who have just one serving of alcohol per day.
According to a 2002 review of studies, the risk of breast cancer is 1.46 times greater for women who drink 45 grams of alcohol per day. That’s the equivalent of 4.5 drinks.
According to a large 2009 study, an extra 10 grams of alcohol (1 drink) per day increases your risk for breast cancer by 12 percent.
Increased risk of heart disease, obesity, and organ damage
Excess drinking increases a woman’s risk for heart disease.
It also increases her risk for central obesity, the accumulation of weight mostly around the midsection. This type of obesity is a big factor in the development of heart disease.
Heavy drinking raises a woman’s risk for organ system problems, including damage to the:
Increased risk of osteoporosis and broken bones
Not only does heavy drinking increase the risk of osteoporosis, but it can also increase a woman’s risk for falling and fractures. The bone loss can’t be reversed, and severe fractures may require surgery.
Increased risk of depression and alcoholism
Some menopausal women find they’re happier after having a drink, while others feel more depressed. However, the risk of depression does tend to increase during menopause.
A 2020 study also shows that heavy drinking is on the rise in both women and older adults. Heavy drinking can make depression worse.
Even in women without depression, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to alcohol use disorder.
How much can you drink during menopause?
When it comes to drinking during menopause, the amount matters. How much depends on your:
- personal health
- drinking history
- family history
Even small amounts of alcohol can interfere with certain medications. It’s important to talk to your doctor about the medications you take if you plan on drinking.
To maximize health benefits and minimize health risks during menopause, most healthy women should consume no more than one drink per day, or 7 drinks per week.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines one drink as either:
- 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof distilled alcohol, which has an alcohol content of about 40 percent; this equals a shot glass
- 5 fluid ounces of wine at an alcohol content of about 12 percent
- 8 fluid ounces of malt liquor at an alcohol content of about 7 percent
- 12 fluid ounces of regular beer at an alcohol content of about 5 percent; this equals a standard bottle or can
What’s the takeaway?
Remember, every woman is different.
Moderate drinking, or one drink per day, during menopause can boost the health of some women. However, it may worsen symptoms or harm the health of others.
It’s important to talk to your doctor about whether it’s safe for you to drink.
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