What is menopause?

Menopause is the time in a woman’s life when her period stops completely. As the female body ages, it gradually produces smaller amounts of reproductive hormones, such as estrogen. Reaching menopause means a woman is no longer fertile, or cannot conceive children. The average age of menopause is 51, but some women go through menopause in their forties.

The onset of menopause is associated with symptoms that can sometimes be uncomfortable. These symptoms are caused by low levels of reproductive hormones cause these symptoms. Symptoms may include:

  • hot flashes
  • night sweats
  • mood swings
  • insomnia
  • painful intercourse
  • decreased sex drive
  • skin changes

The lack of hormones during menopause also increases a woman’s risks of broken bones, bone loss (osteoporosis), and heart problems.

Can alcohol affect menopause symptoms?

A number of habits can affect the frequency and severity of menopause symptoms. Alcohol appears to be one of them. As women (and men) age, they become more sensitive to the effects of alcohol on the body. This is because 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.

The effects of alcohol affect women more than men because they are usually smaller than men. This means they absorb alcohol more quickly. Women also have less of a certain enzyme in their stomach than men. As a result, their bodies cannot handle alcohol as well.

Alcohol can affect the body in different ways. Some women find they are happier, while others feel more depressed. Certain women say that their hot flashes, night sweats, and insomnia become worse. Health experts say that heavy drinking during menopause can increase a woman’s risks of:

  • cancer
  • heart problems
  • liver disease
  • osteoporosis

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 one drink per day. Research suggests that this type of consumption may decrease a woman’s risks of heart disease and may actually slightly boost bone density. Moderate drinking is also associated with a lower risk of:

  • type 2 diabetes
  • dementia
  • stroke
  • obesity

Risks of excess alcohol consumption

A fine line separates a “moderate” amount of alcohol from too much. Consuming two to five drinks a day during menopause is considered excessive and may harm a woman’s health. Excess alcohol consumption during menopause is associated with:

Increased cancer risk

Drinking any amount of alcohol is linked to an increased risk of breast and other cancers. This risk exists even for women who drink just one serving of alcohol per day. The risk of breast cancer is 1.5 times greater for women who drink two to five drinks per day.

Increased risk of heart disease, obesity, and organ damage

Excess drinking increases a woman’s risk of heart disease. It also increases a woman’s risk of “central” obesity, or the accumulation of weight mostly around the midsection. This kind of obesity is a big risk for developing heart disease. Heavy drinking increases a woman’s risks of organ system problems, including damage to the:

  • heart
  • nerves
  • liver
  • brain

Increased risk of osteoporosis and broken bones

Not only does heavy drinking increase the risk for osteoporosis, but it can also increase a woman’s risks of falling and fractures. This bone loss cannot be reversed, and severe fractures may require surgery.

Increased risk of depression and alcoholism

The risk of depression tends to increase in menopausal women. Heavy drinking can make depression worse. Even in women without depression, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to depression and alcoholism.

Worsened menopause symptoms

Researchers have also linked drinking to an increase in hot flashes and night sweats in some women. However, other women report these menopause symptoms are not triggered or worsened by alcohol.

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, and 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. One drink is defined as one of the following:

  • 5 fluid ounces (a glass) of wine at an alcohol content of 12 percent
  • 12 fluid ounces (a standard bottle or can) of regular beer at an alcohol content of about 5 percent
  • 1.5 fluid ounces (a shot glass) of 80-proof distilled alcohol

Remember, every woman is different. Moderate drinking, or one drink per day, during menopause can boost the health of some women during menopause. But 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.