Join Ellen Dolgen for Menopause Mondays on ellendolgen.com. This post was originally published there.
One could say that Menopause offers us a whole new reason to want to reach for our cocktail of choice. Forget work, spouses, kids, and money issues. Those may have been your old reasons for cracking open a bottle of Pinot Noir. Now there’s a new one: the extremely frustrating, often debilitating, more-than-maddening symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. We’ve survived dating, figured out that we can’t ever fully figure out our spouse, delivered and raised our children, and now finally it should be OUR TURN. Unfortunately, Mother Nature has other plans for us. Instead of basking in our empty-nester glory, we find ourselves in perimenopause and menopause.
Although alcohol may be thought by some in the Community of Menopausal Warriors as the go-to elixir for taking the edge off of seasonal stress and menopausal symptoms, it actually may not be the best choice.
That glass of wine may enrage some menopausal symptoms, hot flashes being one of them. Remember that alcohol is a refined carbohydrate that acts like sugar in the body. It can cause an epinephrine release, which can trigger a hot flash. Some women say that their symptoms are more triggered by red wine than white.
Although not based upon specific conclusive research, drinking may trigger hot flashes for some women according to NAMS (North American Menopause Society). Some studies find alcohol increases menopausal hot flashing, whereas others find the opposite. This alone could drive a gal to drink! Unfortunately for many of the Sisterhood, that delicious red or white concoction of fermented fruit can be a double-edged sword. So it is best to determine whether it’s a personal trigger for you.
Let’s first define what moderate drinking is. NIAA defines it this way: Moderate (low risk): no more than seven drinks per week and no more than three drinks on any single day. Ladies, if you need to pull out your calculator to add up the number of drinks you consume in a week then you are probably exceeding the moderate zone!
Before you stop reading, according to NAMS, there may be a benefit associated with alcohol consumption. I’ll toast to that!
- Moderate drinkers have a significantly lower risk of coronary heart disease than nondrinkers. The heart benefits of moderate drinking become apparent at menopause when 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 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 moderately have a lower risk of becoming obese than nondrinkers.
Before you pour that second glass of wine, here is some information on why alcohol is not so great for us:
- 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 may trigger hot flashes for some women, although that isn’t based in research. So determine whether it’s a personal trigger for you. (As for a general risk of experiencing hot flashes and night sweats, some studies find alcohol increases it, whereas others find the opposite.)
- 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, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Moderation is the key word here, ladies. Too much of a good thing is, well, too much! Cocktails anyone?
Remember: Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!
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