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18 Nov 2016 By AMC

Alcohol and Menopause: Can It Mix?

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Two common questions asked by menopausal women are: Will menopause affect my ability to tolerate alcohol? And what are the possible consequences of drinking when menopausal?

The onset of menopause is associated with a number of uncomfortable symptoms. These symptoms are caused by low levels of reproductive hormones and include:

  • Hot flushes
  • Mood swings
  • Night sweats
  • Insomnia
  • Painful intercourse
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Headaches
  • Skin changes
  • Aches and pains
  • Forgetfulness
  • Increased urinary frequency
  • Fatigue

These symptoms are enough to drive a woman to drink, but unfortunately, alcohol only exacerbates them. Studies repeatedly suggest that excessive alcohol (two to five alcoholic drinks per day) can increase the frequency and intensity of hot flushes, night sweats and insomnia, and some studies suggest that excessive alcohol during menopause can increase a woman’s risk of organ system problems, including damage to the heart, nerves, liver and brain.

What’s more, excessive alcohol during menopause has been linked to:

  • Increased risk of osteoporosis and broken bones
  • Increased risk of depression and alcoholism
  • Increased cancer risk (especially breast cancer)
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Increased risk of obesity.

Extensive, prolonged, or heavy alcohol consumption at any point is a health risk, however, during the perimenopause period and postmenopausal years, the risk of health damage increases. Liver damage is the main risk that’s intensified, but women are also more exposed to increased risk of osteoporosis, caused by a sharp decline in bone density.

So does this mean you have to be completely alcohol-free?

Well, that’s up to you. The good news is that the emphasis is on how much you drink, not what you drink. It’s about moderate drinking rather than total avoidance and about managing alcohol intake with any medications you may be taking. Alcohol has harmful interactions with a number of medications, from arthritis medicine to indigestion, cholesterol and blood pressure pills. If you have any concerns surrounding alcohol and your prescribed medication, talk to your doctor.

Women who drink heavily are prone to central obesity – increasing the risk cardiovascular disease. Heavy drinking can lead to osteoporosis that cannot be reversed and depression, and a whole host of other problems.

The benefits of moderate

Moderate drinking in Australia is formally considered as one to two drinks of alcohol each day, however this can change somewhat depending on personal health, drinking history, and family history. Even small amounts can interfere with certain medications, so if you take something regularly, talk to your doctor.

It is important to consider the correct definition of ‘moderate’, as opposed to what might be considered normal in different social circles. One standard drink is defined in Australia as a 100 ml glass of wine with an alcohol content of 12 percent, a standard 375 ml can of beer with 3.5 percent alcohol, or a 30 ml shot of spirits with 40 percent alcohol.

Some research suggests that moderate drinking:

  • Is good for the heart with light to moderate drinkers showing a lower risk of coronary heart disease than nondrinkers.
  • Lowers risk of type 2 diabetes by as much as 30 percent.
  • Lowers risk of dementia with wine drinkers showing a 23 percent reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or signs of cognitive decline than non-drinkers.
  • Reduces the risk of food poisoning caused by uncooked Christmas turkey and other contaminated foods. A British study suggested half a glass of wine each day can guard against germs like salmonella.

For men and women, a moderate amount of alcohol consumption is considered to be no more than two drinks per day. Pay attention to the words “per day”, as it’s not a recommended plan to skip alcohol all week only to indulge in seven drinks come Friday night. A fine line separates “moderate” from “too much”, and consuming even one extra drink during menopause can spell trouble.

Alcohol affects us all differently

Every woman is different and, while one drink may boost the health of some women, for others just one drink can worsen menopause symptoms. Make a note of the days you experience increased hot flushes, headaches, night sweats and insomnia; if your symptoms occur or worsen on days when you’ve enjoyed a drink, perhaps consider cutting alcohol out.

Family, laughter, sunshine and the beach or pool are what make an Aussie party, not alcohol. If you approach an outing with the opinion you won’t have fun without a few drinks, you’re bound to have an awful time. But approach it positively and you’ll soon realise that going out with family and friends can be fun without a drink in hand.