In an ideal world, our hormones work together to keep us healthy and our body functioning at its best. But, when our hormones are out of balance or are not communicating well with each other, it can lead to both physical and mental health problems.
According to recent studies, women are drinking more alcohol than they used to. Whether it is due to the added stress of 2020 or you just love good wine, the impact of alcohol on hormones can be profound. This can negatively affect your energy level, blood pressure, blood sugar, weight, and bone strength.
If you’re feeling fatigued or just not like yourself, reducing or eliminating your alcohol intake can help bring your body back to a more balanced state so you feel your best. Alcohol can directly impact your hormone levels in more ways than one, and reducing your overall intake can help you feel better and get your energy back.
What are hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers that are produced from glands in our body. They work to help our organs communicate and work together so our body functions at its best. Many times when we think of hormones, estrogen may be one of the most first that comes to mind. However, there are many other hormones that serve important functions for our health, such as progesterone, insulin, glucagon, thyroid hormones, and cortisol (the stress hormone).
Some of the functions regulated by our hormones include:
- Proper development and growth
- Metabolism, appetite, and weight
- Sexual and reproductive health
- Cognitive function and mood
- Maintaining proper body temperature
- Blood pressure and blood sugar regulation
- Heart rate
- Sleep and wake cycles
It actually only takes a small change in our hormone levels to cause big changes in our body. Therefore, keeping your hormone levels within a healthy range is in your best interest.
How drinking alcohol can impact hormone balance
Blood Sugar Levels
Excess alcohol intake can interfere with the hormones needed to keep your blood sugar levels in a healthy range. Insulin and glucagon are the main hormones affected. Insulin works to lower blood sugar, while glucagon raises blood sugar.
When these hormones are out of whack, it can affect many things – your hunger, cravings, energy, and overall health. If your blood sugar remains abnormal long-term, it can increase your risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Alcohol intake can also alter your reproductive hormone levels – such as testosterone and estrogen. It can also cause damage to your liver, which is involved in helping to regulate estrogen levels. If either of these hormones are abnormal, it can cause symptoms such as hot flashes, infertility, erratic menstrual cycles, or abnormal distribution of body hair.
Studies have shown the impact that alcohol can also play on infertility treatment outcomes. For this reason, completely abstaining from alcohol when trying to conceive is recommended.
If you’ve ever had a few more drinks than you intended to, you’ve probably found your sleep quality was impacted. You may have woken up more than usual, experienced night sweats, or felt you needed to sleep more. But, you still woke up feeling like it wasn’t enough. This can be frustrating!
Alcohol can affect our sleep in several ways. First, it can reduce our melatonin levels, our hormone that naturally induces sleep. This can make it harder to both fall and stay asleep. Second, it alters our sleep by messing with our blood sugar levels, which may cause us to wake up starving in the middle of the night or early in the morning, regardless of how many calories we may have consumed the night before.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, and so it can cause our mood to fluctuate. Since it lowers our inhibitions, it can also suppress any strong feelings or emotions that should be addressed. This can cause these problems to build up further over time if they are not directly brought to the surface.
Any boost in your mood with alcohol intake is only temporary. If you drink more than the recommended 1-2 drinks per day, it is more likely that it will negatively impact your mood. Along with these mood changes, regular alcohol intake changes your brain chemistry. Serotonin levels may reduce, and if they stay reduced, this can increase your risk of depression.
How much alcohol is safe?
While excessive alcohol intake can pose a health risk, you may be wondering how much alcohol is considered safe? Isn’t “moderate” alcohol intake okay? This data is always changing, but the latest guidelines being proposed are actually more strict.
Previous recommendations based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans was that 1 alcoholic drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men was appropriate and unlikely to pose a health threat. One drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled liquor.
Now, the proposed new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines are recommending only 1 drink per day for both men and women. This is coming from more recent data that show a potential increased risk for health conditions like cancer from even moderate drinking. The experts are also making it clear that if you are not currently consuming alcohol, you shouldn’t start for health reasons. Additionally, if you are pregnant, have certain medical conditions, or take medications that may potentially interact with alcohol – you should not drink at all.
When you are trying to balance your hormones and feel your best, alcohol intake can hinder that. If you are not currently drinking alcohol, it is not advisable to start. However, if you do like a glass of wine, go ahead and enjoy it, but do so in moderation and in accordance with the above guidelines. Then, you can savor your wine while still doing what’s best for your health. If you want to try a delicious mocktail, check out my strawberry shrub mocktail recipe.
Have you noticed a change in your hormones with alcohol?
Share your thoughts in the comments!