Is Drinking Alcohol During Menopause A Good Idea? Know The Risks and Benefits

Is drinking alochol during menopause a good idea? Know the risks and benefits

How do you feel when you drink alcohol? Is it different than you felt ten years ago? As you age, your body may react differently to alcohol. Your health, life stressors, and medications can also impact how you feel. Research suggests alcohol during and after menopause can lower your risk of certain conditions and increase the risk of others including breast cancer. We’ve reviewed many of the studies and provide information regarding the risks and benefits so you can make an educated decision on drinking alcohol during menopause.

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    Menopause and alcohol

    No matter where you are in the menopause journey (pre-menopause, menopause, or post-menopause), alcohol can have new and profound impacts on your body.

    During this natural life transition, you may find yourself asking yourself:
     
    • Why do I get a hot flash when I drink alcohol?
    • Why does wine make my face flush?
    • Why do I feel hot after a glass of alcohol?

    Alcohol may affect you differently during this stage of life, and you may feel the effects more quickly.

    In addition, your habits in earlier stages of life can impact how you feel during menopause.
    It’s not just how much alcohol you drink during menopause that matters, but how much you drank before too. There’s some evidence that drinking, even in your 30’s, can impact when menopause arrives and the effect it has on your health.

    While there’s nothing you can do to change the past, you can chart a better path forward by understanding the risks and benefits of drinking alcohol during menopause.

    Drinking risks

    Throughout your life, you’ve probably heard contradictory advice about the impact of alcohol on your well-being. There are also conflicting studies on alcohol and menopause.
     
    New 2023 evidence from the World Health Organization shows that despite what you’ve heard about potential benefits, there is no safe level of alcohol. 
     

    Here’s what the research shows about alcohol and menopause risks:

    • Drinking can increase menopause symptoms like sleeplessness, hot flashes, and weight gain.
    • Breast cancer research is most convincing with an increased risk, even for light drinkers.
    • Your risk of osteoporosis may be affected by how much you drink in your 20’s and 30’s.
    Everyone’s menopause journey is unique, so your risk factors and menopause symptoms will vary. Pay attention to your body and what it tells you. Think beyond short-term symptoms like hot flashes, and consider the long-term impact of alcohol on your health, especially considering the updated guidance about no alcohol being the safest amount.
    Alcohol and menopause: breast cancer

    Alcohol and breast cancer

    While there are conflicting studies on many of the risks associated with alcohol use during menopause, there’s a definitive link between breast cancer and drinking.
    The World Cancer Research Fund believes, “The evidence that alcoholic drinks are a cause of premenopausal and postmenopausal breast cancer is convincing.”
    Researchers have done more than 100 studies into the link between breast cancer and alcohol use.
     

    So, what is that risk? The NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study analyzed 184,418 postmenopausal women and found even one glass of alcohol a day increases a woman’s risk for breast cancer.

    The study found a 32% increased risk in women who had one or two drinks a day, and a 50% increased risk for women who had three or more alcoholic beverages a day. 

    It’s believed alcohol can increase estrogen and other hormones, change cells, and affect their growth.

    So, drinking even small amounts can increase your risk of breast cancer.

    Alcohol and stress

    Menopause is a stressful time in your life, so you may drink more. There can be changes at work, at home, and with your health.
     
    Add in menopause symptoms like hot flashes and sleeplessness, which make life even more complicated. For some women, symptoms can be severe enough that they may interfere with their work and personal life.

    So, you may notice your consumption of alcohol increases. For the first time in your life, you may find yourself abusing alcohol or drinking heavily.
     
    Think about why you drink. Is stress the main reason? If so, figure out your stress triggers and look for alternative ways to relax your body. You can try these 19 self-care strategies, which heavily focus on stress management. Drinking may relax you, but it’s short-lived.
     
    There are alternative ways to relax and de-stress if your menopause journey throws you curve balls. Focus on mindfulness, gratitude, exercises like yoga, and other mind-body techniques to calm your mind of worry and stress.
     
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    Alcohol and osteoporosis

    Osteoporosis is another big health concern for postmenopausal women (greater risk if you are white or Asian), although it’s more of a potentially painful disability than a leading cause of death like cancer. It can lead to death, though, in the case of complications from a situation like a hip fracture, which is often complicated by pneumonia.
     

    In postmenopausal women, light-to-moderate drinking has shown beneficial effects on bone mineral density. In the Nurses’ Health Study, women who drank about 7 drinks a week had more bone density than non-drinkers and those who drank less.

    The downside is that alcohol may impair your judgment and physical ability to maintain your balance, no matter your age, increasing the risk of an injury or fall, which may be complicated by a fracture.
     
    Other studies of a more general population point out that a woman’s risk of osteoporosis may develop based on drinking habits earlier in life since women reach their peak bone mass around age 35. If you drank heavily during your younger years, there may be irreversible damage to your bone health.
     
    The research is less clear if you’re a moderate drinker (no more than one drink a day for women). Some human research indicates moderate drinking increases bone density, but animal studies contradict that.
     
    Of course, other lifestyle factors impact one’s risk for osteoporosis, so an overall healthy lifestyle at an early age is critical to your risks as you age.
     

    Alcohol insomnia

    It’s unlikely you’ll know if you’re increasing or decreasing your risk of cancer, osteoporosis, or coronary heart disease when you drink. You will know, though, if alcohol use affects common menopause symptoms like hot flashes and sleeplessness.

    Drinking can cause sleeping problems, no matter your age.

    According to the 
    National Sleep Foundation, alcohol can impact your ability to get deep sleep. So, you may fall asleep right away but likely will wake up in the middle of the night or rise in the morning feeling groggy or unfocused. So, imagine the complications if you’re already having trouble sleeping due to menopause symptoms and then adding alcohol to the mix.
     

    Focus on good sleep hygiene, which includes day and night techniques to get a better night’s sleep.

    Alcohol hot flash

    Do you often feel hot after drinking alcohol? 

    Hot flashes are one of the most common side effects of menopause, with up to 80 percent of women experiencing them.
     
    For some women, hot flashes increase. Alcohol can have a warming effect on the body, no matter your age or stage in the life cycle. So, if you’re prone to hot flashes during menopause, you may feel them come on when you drink. Women looking for hot flash treatment are often told to reduce alcohol use or cut it out altogether.

    However, alcohol doesn’t always trigger hot flashes or make symptoms worse. Remember, every menopause story is different.

    The 
    Midlife Women’s Health Study found moderate drinking is associated with a reduced risk of hot flashes. The study found hot flashes were shorter in duration and took fewer years to peak in severity women for women who had at least 12 drinks in the past year.
     
    Some of this may be due to the unique nature of menopause. While women share common symptoms, they often vary in frequency and intensity.
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    Potential benefits of drinking alcohol?

    New research from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that there is no safe level of alcohol. All alcohol, even small amounts, can impact your health. 

    While some earlier studies may have pointed to potential beneficial effects of moderate alcohol, this new information raises questions about those studies.

    The previous studies suggested that in post-menopausal women, some alcohol consumption increased bone mineral density, enough that it might outweigh the increased risk of breast cancer.

    Research also showed alcohol decreased a woman’s risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), the leading cause of death in men and women. For women+ that was potentially good news at the time because a woman’s risk of heart disease increases during the menopause journey.

    In the Nurses’ Health Study, rates of death from CHD were lower for women who had one drink a week and even for those who had two drinks a day or more. One drink is considered a 5-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce beer, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.

    The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study of middle-aged men and women found a switch from no alcohol to moderate wine drinking (1 drink or less per day for women) in midlife led to a 38% lower chance of developing cardiovascular disease compared to non-drinkers. The study called it a substantial reduction in four years.

    While not explicitly focused on menopausal women, the study examined women age 45-64, so at some point during that age range, the women likely entered menopause. The study evaluated 7,697 men and women and found no differences between age, race, gender, BMI, or cardiovascular risks.

    However, the researchers note that follow-up was limited, and the other risks of alcohol should be considered before you start drinking.
     
    WHO says there is no valid scientific evidence that shows alcohol consumption below a certain level doesn’t increase the risk of illness or injury. They add:
    currently available evidence cannot indicate the existence of a threshold at which the carcinogenic effects of alcohol “switch on” and start to manifest in the human body. 
    As for studies that talk about CVD and other benefits, WHO says the studies don’t show that the beneficial effects outweigh the cancer risk. 
     
    We cannot talk about a so-called safe level of alcohol use. It doesn’t matter how much you drink – the risk to the drinker’s health starts from the first drop of any alcoholic beverage. The only thing that we can say for sure is that the more you drink, the more harmful it is – or, in other words, the less you drink, the safer it is.”

    ~ Dr. Carina Ferreira-Borges, acting Unit Lead for Noncommunicable Disease Management and Regional Advisor for Alcohol and Illicit Drugs in the WHO Regional Office for Europe
    It’s not just cancer that’s a concern. The American Heart Association cautions people not to start drinking because of other possible consequences like car accidents, increased risk of hypertension, and certain types of cancer and liver disease. Talk with your doctor and make a decision based on your personal situation.
     

    How much alcohol is too much?

    According to the new guidelines from WHO, there is no safe level of alcohol.
     
    Besides the obvious ways alcohol affects you, including the added calories, which can add up to weight gain, there are also long-term effects on your body that silently develop and don’t reveal themselves until years later.

    Know your limits and know how much is too much. It may be less than you think.

    Heavy alcohol use is drinking more than seven drinks per week or more than 3 drinks on any given night.

    Think about the potential long-term health impacts too. Depending on your alcohol intake, symptoms may not be apparent immediately but may reveal themselves years later.
     
    Also, pay attention to how your body responds to drinking alcohol during menopause. Recognize that may change over time.

    If you’re on medications for other health concerns, check with your doctor because you may have more reactions. 
     

    Beer, wine, and hard liquor can interact with certain medications. You’ll often find a warning on the packaging if this is the case. It’s not just prescription medications but also some over-the-counter treatments. Look at this list of medicines that can interact with alcohol

    If you drink alcohol, the American Heart Association recommends you keep it moderate. That’s 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits for women.

    Menopause is a marathon. Symptoms can last decades, so the earlier you train for this natural part of a woman’s life cycle, the better off you’ll be. Focus on alcohol moderation sooner rather than later.

    Focus on a healthy lifestyle

    If you drink, moderation is critical, combined with other healthy lifestyle habits like healthy eating and physical activity.

    Of course, everyone’s risks vary, and these same researchers believe more studies are needed to examine the relationship between alcohol and the human body.

    Furthermore, the benefits should not be an excuse to drink, and post-menopausal
    women are cautioned to interpret the results carefully “…given the diversity of non-drinking control groups, inaccuracies of self-report, and lack of studies in which subjects are randomly assigned to drinking conditions.”

    If you enjoy a cocktail or a glass of wine, it doesn’t mean you have to eliminate it. Like every other stage of life, moderation and a focus on an overall healthy lifestyle will optimize the best outcome during menopause and your post-menopausal years.
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    Lew JQ, Freedman ND, Leitzmann MF, Brinton LA, Hoover RN, Hollenbeck AR, Schatzkin A, Park Y. Alcohol and risk of breast cancer by histologic type and hormone receptor status in postmenopausal women: the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. Am J Epidemiol. 2009 Aug 1;170(3):308-17. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwp120. Epub 2009 Jun 18. PMID: 19541857; PMCID: PMC2727171.

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    Jang H-D, Hong J-Y, Han K, Lee JC, Shin B-J, Choi S-W, et al. (2017) Relationship between bone mineral density and alcohol intake: A nationwide health survey analysis of postmenopausal women. PLoS ONE 12(6): e0180132. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0180132

    Aging? How Old Will You Feel 10 Years From Now? | PeopleTweaker

    Alcohol and Sleep | Sleep Foundation

    Menopause-related hot flashes and night sweats can last for years | Harvard Health Publishing

    Ziv-Gal, A., Smith, R.L., Gallicchio, L. et al. The Midlife Women’s Health Study – a study protocol of a longitudinal prospective study on predictors of menopausal hot flasheswomens midlife health 3, 4 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40695-017-0024-8

    Health Issues in Postmenopausal Women Who Drink | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

    King DE, Mainous AG 3rd, Geesey ME. Adopting moderate alcohol consumption in middle age: subsequent cardiovascular events. Am J Med. 2008 Mar;121(3):201-6. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2007.12.004. PMID: 18328303; PMCID: PMC2287372.

    No level of alcohol consumption is safe for our health | World Health Organization

    Drinking red wine for heart health? Read this before you toast | American Heart Association

    Drink to Your Health at Menopause, or Not? | The Menopause Society

    Health Risks of Chronic Heavy Drinking | WebMD

    Harmful Interactions | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

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