The 411 on Alcohol: Can You Drink During Menopause?

According to The North American Menopause Society, as women age, their tolerance for alcohol decreases. Studies show that men typically drink higher amounts of alcohol, but it is women who are more likely to suffer the consequences of drinking too much. Even moderate amounts of alcohol can produce more harmful effects in a woman’s body. Why? Women tend to be more affected by alcohol consumption for a number of possible reasons:

  • less body water to dilute the alcohol
  • generally smaller body size
  • the inability to metabolize alcohol as efficiently as men

Does this mean you should avoid alcohol during menopause, bypassing the bar when out with friends, or shunning the drink tray at an office party? What are the consequences if you decide to drink during menopause?

Get the 411 on alcohol drinking during menopause.  

How Alcohol Affects Your Body

Premenopause

Long before menopause, alcohol can have dangerous consequences for a woman’s health. As early as adolescence, you are laying the foundation for your future. Menopause and hot flashes may seem light years away. But research suggests that adolescent girls who regularly consume even moderate amounts of alcohol may be disturbing the normal timing of puberty. Long-term effects include infertility and impaired fetal growth and development.

Postmenopause

Particularly for postmenopausal women, alcohol consumption has been shown to affect hormone levels and bone health. According to Mary Ann Emanuele, M.D., Frederick Wezeman, Ph.D., and Nicholas V. Emanuele, M.D., co-authors of a study on alcohol’s effects on reproduction (Alcohol Research Program at Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University), too much alcohol can play a big part in the onset of osteoporosis. Excessive or chronic alcohol consumption can upset the balance that is necessary for maintaining normal bone health.

Do menopause and alcohol mix?

The list of possible effects from alcohol on a woman’s body is extensive. Studies continue to show how even mild to moderate alcohol consumption can negatively affect a woman’s fertility.

High in calories but low in nutritional value, alcohol can contribute to weight gain in menopausal women. In addition to weight gain, alcohol consumption has also been shown to increase the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and breast cancer in women who are in menopause.

Alcohol can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb calcium, a nutrient that is key in the maintenance of bone density and necessary for many other bodily functions as well. By increasing your body’s parathyroid hormone (PTH), alcohol can disrupt the body’s calcium balance. Elevated PTH levels can lead to secondary hyperparathyroidism, which in turn can strain your body’s already low calcium supply. Chronic drinking can impact vitamin D metabolism, making it hard for your body to absorb calcium.

While research is ongoing, the general consensus is to limit alcohol consumption as the safest bet to staying healthy. 

Does the amount of alcohol make a difference?

Absolutely. The American Cancer Society warns that alcohol is linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer, and that “risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed.” Additional research shows a strong relationship between alcohol consumption and developing certain cancers, including mouth, liver, and esophageal cancer.

So how much is enough?

Researchers continue to search for an answer to why, exactly, alcohol and cancer are associated. Is alcohol itself causing the problem by increasing hormone levels? Or could it be the way our bodies metabolize the alcohol?

While research is ongoing, the general consensus is that limiting alcohol consumption is the safest bet for staying healthy. 

What’s considered low risk?

One alcoholic drink a day is considered low-risk.

What’s considered high risk?

Two to five drinks a day increases your risk for health conditions.