The almighty grape.
The fruit of the gods (and goddesses).
As I write this post, I'm drinking a Dry Farm Wines Cabernet Sauvignon.
As I age, I've begun to wonder about alcohol and menopause.
Are there any potential benefits?
What are the risk factors for menopausal women?
How can something that most of us are eager to do as teenagers affect us as we age?
THIS POST IS ABOUT ALCOHOL AND MENOPAUSE AND ITS EFFECTS ON THE MENOPAUSAL TRANSITION.
THE HISTORY OF WOMEN & ALCOHOL
Going back to 7,000 BC, we find the earliest alcoholic drinks made from fermented rice, honey, fruits, and grapes.
Many alcohols were made for medicinal purposes in ancient Egypt.
For example, they were mixtures of grapes, dates, and palm sap, and their blends were even found in ancient papyrus scrolls.
Ancient Roman soldiers were encouraged to drink wine for its health properties, strength, fortitude, and offsetting bacterial diseases that cause diarrhea.
Whereas Asiatic mythology points to women as the goddesses of wine, fermentation, and brewing.
Women held a place of power around brewing amongst the Norse Vikings.
Similarly, the present-day matriarch of the Tohono O'odham tribe of Arizona oversees brewing the ceremonious cactus wine.
Red, Red Wine...You Make Me Feel So Fine (Or Not)
Many of us adults seem to have a love affair with alcohol, even if you don't want to admit it.
When the government's priorities are to keep liquor stores open during the pandemic but close down gyms, there is a problem with alcohol dependence as a societal whole.
I've never been a big drinker.
In fact, two glasses of wine are my limit, but during the lockdown, it was always 5 o'clock somewhere on any given Zoom dance party I was attending!
Most of us reach for alcohol when we feel stressed or use it to "take the edge off."
It makes sense since it works as a depressant and will make you feel relaxed (in the short term).
However, over time, the adverse effects of alcohol and menopause can lead to a heightened nervous system, especially, causing:
- panic attacks
- wild fluctuations in blood sugar levels
- mood swings
- intense hot flushes (not just in women)
Alcohol (Metabolism) and Menopause
Alcohol is a chemical known as ethanol found in all alcoholic beverages.
Ethanol gets absorbed in the stomach and small intestines before it floods your bloodstream.
Many of our organs are involved in breaking down or metabolizing ethanol, but the liver is primary.
The liver contains enzymes that work like little Pacmen to break up the chemical bonds of ethanol so it can be utilized or excreted from the body.
When these enzymes break down alcohol, the pieces of the chemicals left behind are a toxic byproduct, which becomes the most serious issue for drinkers.
Since metabolism slows with aging, toxins build more quickly and stay longer.
Resulting in a sluggish, burdened, unhealthy system.
The bottle of wine we drank before menopause now has a very different effect on our present or post-menopausal body.
For more information on the perimenopause vs menopause transition and metabolism, read here.
The Alcohol Gene
Not everyone processes alcohol the same way, just like coffee metabolism differs for each person.
That is to say, our DNA, or genetic makeup, dictates how well we can break apart alcohol once it is ingested.
Genetic variations can cause us to metabolize alcohol too quickly or too slowly.
Therefore, making those of us whom are slow metabolizers get hit with more negative feelings more quickly, such as:
- face flushing
- increased body temperature
- rapid heartbeat
When alcohol is metabolized slowly, it leaves behind more toxic byproducts.
Histamine, a byproduct of breaking down ethanol, causes an allergic reaction by causing redness, hot flashes, widening blood vessels, and a drop in blood pressure.
Any histamine responses to food or drink can culminate into more significant problems later in life.
Most importantly, it can eventually worsen any symptoms of menopause we might be faced with.
Alcohol and Hormones
For most, a glass of wine isn't much to be concerned about.
However, as we age and enter perimenopause, even the smallest amount of alcohol can significantly impact our hormone levels.
Remember that the onset of menopause begins with perimenopause, which, for some, could start ten years beforehand.
Alcohol and Menopause: Alcohol interferes with a woman's hormonal system.
It changes how we metabolize estrogen.
In other words, excess estrogen doesn't get excreted through urination or bowel movements.
When the byproducts of estrogen, called metabolites, stay behind in our system, they build up and become excessive.
As a result, a woman's breast cancer risk increases amongst other health risks when she combines alcohol and menopause.
Too much estrogen that isn't excreted can become troublesome for those predisposed to or dealing with estrogenic cancers.
Alcohol tolerance has nothing to do with excessive drinking or heavy alcohol consumption.
In fact, those of us with an intolerance do not do well with even the smallest amount of alcohol intake.
Not everyone can metabolize ethanol, the chemical name for alcohol.
Some signs of sensitivity and/or intolerance to alcohol include:
- facial redness or flushing
- runny or stuffy nose and congestion
- night sweats
- high blood pressure or sudden low blood pressure
- worsening asthma symptoms
Alcohol and Menopause: weight Gain
Muscle mass decreases in women by 3 - 8% per decade beginning in their 30s.
After the age of 70, muscle mass rapidly declines by .5 - 1% per year.
Unfortunately, due to the decline in adequate muscle energy, as we age into and out of menopause, we get pushed into a fat-storage, not fat-burning state.
This makes it harder for us to lose weight.
The increase in fat mass typically accumulates around the midsection causing the menopot or "wine belly".
Midsection fat, known as visceral fat, is the most dangerous form of fat a body can have as it is related directly to cardiovascular disease.
Alcohol contributes to menopausal weight gain because it adds a lot of "empty" calories to a diet.
Using fruit juices or sodas as mixers for cocktails only increases calories and sugar, which leaves us stuck in a type of pre-diabetic loop.
Bloating, swelling, and inflammation make us "feel" thicker and heavier.
Whereas changes in the scale become inevitable.
The Histamine Effects of Alcohol
Histamine: a compound released from the body's cells in response to an injury that causes an "allergic" reaction.
A histamine response has nothing to do with the alcohol content you are drinking.
It has to do with a specific enzyme called DAO, or diamine oxidase.
Our bodies produce natural enzymes that help us break down our food and drink into smaller pieces that we can use for fuel.
Alcohol and certain foods need this DAO enzyme to help us digest; however, only some make sufficient amounts.
Leaving us unable to control our "allergic" or histamine response.
Subsequently, if we are deficient in this enzyme, we will most likely experience a histamine reaction when drinking alcohol or eating certain foods.
Histamine reactions to both food and alcohol can look like the following:
- red flushed face
- itching skin
- quick onset of congestion in the sinuses
- racing heartbeat
Histamine, ALCOHOL and Menopause
I hate to be the bearer of bad news.
But, those of us going through menopause are more at risk for experiencing heightened histamine responses.
Our sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) and histamine are tightly linked in a woman's life.
When we age and begin experiencing wild fluctuations in our hormones, we can experience seemingly crazy over-emphasized responses to histamine as well.
The following menopausal symptoms can be related to histamine intolerance issues:
- decreased REM sleep leading to not feeling well rested / insomnia
- intense hot flashes
- feelings of anxiety
- panicky feelings before a hot flash
- itchy skin
- bladder irritation
- urinary urgency
If you are curious about what foods or drinks that might trigger hot flashes, read here.
DAO Support for Reducing Histamine Reactions
If you have any mild histamine reactions to alcohol or certain foods, your best bet is to stop consuming that food or drink.
You can eliminate it from your diet for a while then slowly reintroduce it to confirm whether or not you are reactive to it.
Suppose, however, you continue social drinking or moderate alcohol use.
Some products on the market can lessen your histamine response or reduce mild allergic reactions.
I notice that when I go for Japanese food, dip my sushi into soy sauce, and pair it with a glass of white wine; I get hot, flushed, and immediately congested.
I've often been asked, "are you getting sick? You sound like you are stuffy!"
My reply is always, "no, I'm fine...I think I'm reacting to the food," but I never understood why until a few years ago.
One of the biggest culprits in triggering a histamine response is soy sauce (fermented soy) and alcohol.
So, every visit to a Japanese restaurant became a congested nightmare for me.
Until I began taking my DAO supplement before histamine-triggering meals.
Now I can tolerate most foods and alcohol without any symptoms.
Reducing Wine Headaches and Face Flushing
If you want to reduce the sulfites and histamines in wine, using a product such as THE WAND might be helpful.
The wand is great for travel or to take on the go since they are individually wrapped and easy to use.
If you want to decant, aerate and remove the sulfites and histamines in a full bottle of wine at home, then using the Ullo (pronounced "ooh-low") might be your best bet.
Both The Wand and the Ullo use specialized pouches that capture sulfite molecules which in turn will reduce your histamine response.
Remember, sulfites are often used as a preservative in non-organic winemaking.
It is used to prevent oxidation and bacterial growth.
Likewise, don't be fooled...sulfites are found in organic wines just in trace amounts.
Alcohol and Menopause: Pesticides
Pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides are all commonly used in conventional winemaking.
In fact, in 95% of the 550,000 acres of vineyards in Napa, CA, alone, pesticides are used when growing grapes in private reserves and large wineries.
Environmental contaminant exposure (ECE) can majorly impact the menopausal transition.
Recent research in 2022 shows that ECEs accelerate reproductive aging and contribute to earlier menopausal onset.
Drier wine regions use fewer pesticides, whereas the more humid areas, like the Champagne region of France, use up to 20% of the country's entire pesticide volume.
Grapes aren't the only ingredients plagued with pesticide residue.
Beer is also often filled with environmental contaminants.
In fact, a study done by Dartmouth shows that those who consume 2.5 glasses of beer per day have 30% more arsenic in their blood than those that do not consume it daily.
Resveratrol is the component of red wine that has been touted as having significant health benefits.
It is a chemical compound found in the skin of the grape.
It gives red grapes, blueberries, strawberries, and other fruits their colorful vibrancy.
Research reports that many organs in the body can benefit from resveratrol, including the heart, kidney, breast, and bones.
Resveratrol can mimic estrogen, even though it's a plant-based estrogen.
This could be good for women going through menopause that are dealing with a sharp decline in estrogen.
It is also acceptable for women on hormone replacement therapy.
On the contrary, those of us predisposed to estrogen-related cancers should not use resveratrol as it is not advisable to consume anything that might increase estrogen levels.
Beneficial Resveretrol Dosage
For us to get the full benefits of resveratrol, we must take in 1 g per day.
That would be equivalent to drinking a few hundred glasses of red wine daily.
Consequently, an unattainable amount and beyond the definition of heavy drinking for anyone.
So, considering that one 5-oz glass of wine only contains .001g of resveratrol, you don't get a beneficial dose when you drink.
It is best to get your resveratrol from food if you can but knowing that you get a little extra boost from red wine is always a plus!
Alcohol And Menopause: Dietary Guidelines
The United States dietary guidelines for alcoholic beverages for those of legal drinking age are to limit 2 drinks for men and 1 drink for women per day.
In 2022, Canada proposed that having more than 10 drinks per week can cause an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.
The United Kingdom recommends 14 units or less of alcohol per week.
The Brits do not use a 1:1 ratio, so don't think that 14 glasses of booze per week is an acceptable amount!
For instance, 1 standard glass of wine is equivalent to 2.1 units.
The North American Menopause Society advises against any alcohol consumption during menopause and for postmenopausal women entirely for cancer prevention.
An estimated 12.1% of breast cancer in the US is attributed to alcohol use.
Therefore, if you drink, you are being fair warned of your potential risks.
How To Choose The "Healthiest" Alcohol
Alcohol, as you have come to realize, isn't necessarily good for your overall health.
However, if you continue to choose to drink, you might want to think about making better choices of the types of alcohol or cocktail you imbibe.
There is inconclusive research between red, white, or rosè wines regarding how much resveratrol is considered the best.
The darker the grape skin, the higher the concentrations of polyphenols, so one can claim that any dark red would be the best choice.
However, light whites and rosè have lower calories.
Dry wines have less sugar.
Choosing your wine regarding calories and sugar content is important if you are dealing with weight issues or trying to stay on a lower net-carb diet while in the menopause transition.
I only drink organic wines from grapes harvested from healthy soil and biodynamic farming practices.
I choose wines made with no additives, no sugar added and that is lab tested for purity.
Dry Farm Wines is my go-to wine subscription service as they curate their varietals from small family farms with the same healthy mission.
If I am going to drink, I can at least choose to drink a delicious "healthier" type of wine without any extra bioburden on my already compromised hormones.
Vodka is the lowest-calorie type of alcohol, making it a good choice for those that are watching their weight and yet still want to enjoy a cocktail.
Traditionally made from potatoes, wheat, and corn, specialty vodkas can now be found by specialty purveyors made from apples, honey, quinoa, and even whey!
Vodkas made from potatoes carry a heavier calorie count (about 100) vs those made from grains (around 60 calories)
Combining it with carbonated water and a slice of a citrus peel will make it the least impactful on your blood sugar.
On the contrary, adding soda or fruit juices can quickly turn it into a heavy sugar bomb on your system, which can make your menobelly bigger!
Tequila is also pretty low on the calorie list of alcohol.
It is made from 100% agave, a dry, succulent plant native to the arid regions of the Americas, Mexico, and the dry parts of the Caribbean.
It contains no sugar or carbohydrates.
Blanco or silver tequila is typically the cleanest yet is also the youngest, meaning it is aged and served after a short aging process.
This is the most common tequila type if you like margaritas.
Reposado is typically aged 2-12 months in oak barrels and is considered a "sipping" tequila due to feeling smooth on the tongue and throat.
Añejo is aged the longest, 1 - 4 years, in oak barrels. It is darkest since it has been aged the longest and is also best for sipping straight.
When you make them with fresh ingredients, margaritas are much less impactful on blood sugar than store-bought mixes, which are typically high in sugar.
Gin is a distilled spirit made from a grain mash with the addition of the juniper berry as its distinctive aromatic ingredient.
Originally made as a diuretic (makes you urinate) medicine in the 17th century.
It is low in calories and is also considered gluten-free, even though it is made from wheat, barley, or rye.
In short, the distillation process removes the gluten from the grains.
Some distilleries even use corn, beet or potatoes for their mash to make gin.
Gin is most commonly made in Europe, America, and South Africa.
It has no added sugars and no fat.
Rum is made from the residue after the sugar has crystallized from the sugarcane juice.
This residue is called molasses.
Like tequila, the rum color can range from clear to dark brown.
This has to do with the oak barrel aging process.
The longer it sits or "ages," the darker the color.
Darker rums are to be sipped without any mixes, whereas light rums are typically used in making famous rum punches and cocktails.
Flavored rums can add other ingredients which can drastically increase their sugar content.
Again, fruit juices, syrups, creams, and flavorings can pack your pounds on quickly.
So, it is best to go with sipping small quantities of dark rum if you opt for it.
Women now account for almost 40% of whiskey drinkers in America.
Whiskey is a fermented mash of barley, rye, or wheat.
Bourbon is an American whiskey made of at least 51% corn along with whatever grain mash the purveyor uses for their brand.
95% of the world's supply comes from Kentucky, making it known as "America's Native Spirit."
Both whiskey and bourbon are high in alcohol content.
Whiskey can be anywhere from 40-50% alcohol whereas bourbon is typically slightly less at 40%.
Keep in mind the higher alcohol content leads to higher calories.
So, if you are looking for a low calorie drink, this might not be your best bet.
Brandy is an alcoholic drink made from a fermented fruit mash or grapes.
It is known as a distilled wine.
5 oz of brandy can bring in about 230 calories per glass.
Lower-proof brandy typically contains about 20-30% sugar, whereas high-proof brandies, such as Cognac, can contain about 50% sugar.
High blood sugar wreaks havoc on a women's system and can contribute to worsening symptoms of menopause, especially weight gain, and digestive issues.
Fermented grains, hops, yeast, and water are beer's main ingredients.
The concept of the "beer belly" is that beer will make you fat.
To be clear, drinking about 3 pints of beer is equivalent to eating an entire bar of chocolate.
Therefore, drinking any alcohol in excess can contribute to excess weight gain due to the amount of "empty calories" they contain.
Would you like a taste of Round-Up as your beer shooter?
Like pesticides are found in wine, many also are found in beer.
A study by the U.S. Public Interest group revealed that trace amounts of glyphosate herbicide were found in 14 leading beer brands.
Glyphosate is a known endocrine disruptor.
Endocrine disruptors can contribute to the following in the menopausal woman:
- increased risk of breast cancer
- increase the chances of thyroid diseases
- GI upset including inflammatory and irritable bowel syndrome
- sleep disorders
- anxiety, depression and cognition issues
In Conclusion: The Truth About Alcohol and Menopause
I'm hoping that this post has you thinking about your drinking habits at this age.
Enjoying a glass of wine with dinner or sipping on a cocktail with no added sugar or fruit juices can be fine for you.
However, if you are experiencing intense transitional changes during menopause, you might consider exploring what and how much you are imbibing.
Here are some things to really consider if you drink during your menopausal transition time:
- Alcohol will dry out your skin, so no amount of lotions and creams will cause you to age in reverse if you continue to drink daily.
- Bloat and swelling are caused by your vital organs trying to hold on to as much water as they can when the overall system is in a state of dehydration, a common result of drinking alcohol.
- The tannins, sulfites and additional pesticides found in wines and beer can worsen hot flashes by triggering a histamine reaction.
- If you notice that your hair is breaking, splitting and slow to grow, you might consider that alcohol consumption causes malnutrition over time.
- Even though alcohol can make you feel a little less inhibited, research shows that it impairs female sexual function leading to less lubrication, decreased sex drive and inability to orgasm.
Will taking time away from alcohol help you lose weight, improve your sleep and have fewer hot flashes?
The process of elimination can give you some insight if you are willing to challenge yourself.
Dry challenge, anyone?
Dry Farm Wines
MORE POSTS YOU'LL LOVE
Alcohol and Menopause: It’s 5 O Clock Somewhere
by DR. BIANCA BELDINI
December 28, 2022
This post may contain affiliate links. Please read full disclosure here.