I hate talking about the negative effects of alcohol. I don't have many vices, but I’m a wine lover, and I really don't want to give it up!
And I’d love to tell you that it’s OK, that moderate drinking is fine, and point to all the studies that say it is. But one large study has just come out and it's not good news.
Their ‘safe' limit for alcohol is …….NONE!
I'm afraid there is no silver lining on this one. I'm going to have to accept that especially for women over 40 (and I'm now over 50!), alcohol is damaging.
You see alcohol and hormones don’t mix well, so when we've got hormone fluctuations, our livers aren’t at their best, our gut might be playing up and it’s likely to be affecting our sleep, weight, mood, energy levels and brain function. As well as increasing our risk of more serious health problems, especially breast cancer.
So let’s look at some of the effects of alcohol;
- Weight Gain
- It’s a bit more complex than just the ‘empty’ calories, alcohol messes with your blood sugar – that means it can cause energy slumps, mood swings, and sugar/carb cravings.
- Alcohol destroys your will power – you know those carb munchies you get…
- It slows down your metabolism – keeping you in fat storing mode
- It reduces growth hormone and testosterone – your fat burning hormones
- Mood and stress
- After the initial happy feelings, alcohol can lower serotonin levels, leaving you prone to low mood and depression
- The thing many women use it for – to de-stress, is actually raising your stress hormone cortisol, making you more anxious and overwhelmed in the long run
- It can lower testosterone, affecting your libido, motivation and sense of wellbeing
- It can help you fall asleep initially, but having an evening drink can reduce your deep sleep and wake you up at 3am with low blood sugar and / or dehydration – both of which are stresses on the body, raising cortisol
- Your Liver
- Your liver is already struggling – with all the toxins we have around, plus the hormones that we need to detoxify. Alcohol produces acetaldehyde which if not detoxified quickly can result in headaches, nausea, brain fog and fatigue – a typical ‘hangover'.
- While your liver is trying to deal with the alcohol, it might have to sacrifice some other toxins (increasing your toxic load) or hormones (increasing your circulating oestrogen) – too much oestrogen can cause PMS, heavy periods, bloating, headaches, and an increased risk of breast/ovarian cancer.
- Your Gut
- Alcohol can damage the cells in the lining of your gut, increasing inflammation and the risk of leaky gut which can lead to auto-immune conditions
- Alcohol can also alter nutrient absorption as it can reduce enzyme production for digesting food
- If you already have a gut infection, the effects can be worse, especially with candida which also produces acetalydehyde – that’s why you can feel hungover without having had a drink. But if you drink too, the effects can be a lot worse.
- Bone health
So if you already have a hormone imbalance, gut issue, auto-immune issue, poor sleep or nutrient deficiency, alcohol is not going to be your friend.
But I know how hard it is to go without completely, so here are my tips for keeping alcohol as safe as possible;
- Always have food if you're drinking alcohol – never drink on an empty stomach
- Choose wine over cocktails or spirits with sugary mixers (and don’t do diet mixers) – red wine is best as you tend to drink less and it's got some antioxidants – although watch out if you’re histamine intolerant
- Always stay hydrated – drink water before, during and after alcohol
- Have ‘alcohol free’ days during the week – as many as possible
- Take a longer break as often as possible – eg dry January
- Choose quality over quantity
- Ask yourself if it’s just a habit, or you really WANT it.
- Don’t drink at night if you don’t sleep well or if you suffer hangovers the next day.
- Alcohol cravings can happen when your blood sugar is low – mine happen just as I’m starting to cook dinner! Try a large glass of water with a handful of nuts – the craving should pass.
- Eat lots of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, chard, rocket, Brussel sprouts, watercress etc) – to help your liver detox your oestrogen.
- Take a good multivitamin with good levels of active B vitamins – these are depleted often by alcohol, plus a liver formula with milk thistle, N-Acetyl Cysteine and other liver helpers.
- If you suspect you have candida, don’t drink alcohol – get help to get rid of the infection first.