Menopause & Alcohol: A Match Made in Hell
This blog is about how alcohol negatively impacts perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms.
The 18th of October 2022 is World Menopause Day and aims to raise awareness of menopause and the support options available for improving health and wellbeing. This is the perfect moment to shine a light on how drinking less alcohol (or not at all) can dramatically improve this stage in our lives. Lucy caught up with menopause specialist, Dr. Fatima Khan to discuss the impact of over-drinking during the perimenopausal and menopausal phases and how women can immediately start reducing their symptoms.
Menopause is the time that marks the end of your menstrual cycles and is diagnosed after you have gone 12 months without a menstrual period. Perimenopause refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause. Perimenopausal symptoms begin in the disguise of more extreme PMS symptoms and over time the menopause symptoms begin showing up, ranging from hot flushes, night sweats, mood disruption and disturbed sleep to tiredness, anxiety, weight gain and low libido. The entire phase begins close to 40 and ends at 55. Perimenopause and menopause are a natural biological process for women around the world, however, research shows that the symptoms and cultural significance of menopause is more of a Western diagnosis.
Why is Menopause a Western diagnosis?
Perimenopausal and menopausal Australian women are arriving at this stage of their lives, burnt out. They are juggling careers, kids, and teenagers, running the home and all the other stresses that modern day women face. Many (one in five) are reaching for a bottle of wine to self-soothe rather than proactively managing their mental and physical health. And what we know to be true about using alcohol as a tool to self-medicate is that it is extremely counterproductive, as over-drinking only exacerbates anxiety and stress, leaves us feeling depressed, leads us to making poor food choices, negatively impacts sleep and cognitive functioning and so on.
When we look at the age bracket of women in the perimenopausal and menopausal stages of their lives, there is a strong overlap with the cohort of people in Australia who are drinking more than anyone else. Since 2001, there has been a statistically significant increase in risky drinking amongst middle-aged women in Australia. A 2022 study shows around 21 per cent of women between 45 and 60 drink at “binge-drinking” levels. In 2001, just 13-14 percent of women in the same cohort drank at the same level.
Dr. Fatima Khan explained: “A lot women are arriving at the perimenopause and menopause stages of their lives, absolutely exhausted, over-drinking, with poor diets, activated nervous systems with a high toxic load on the body and no adrenal reserves to help them navigate the hormonal shifts and often reaching for the bottle to numb-out.” So, it makes sense that perimenopause and menopause symptoms can be so much worse for these women than for women who manage their stress effectively.
Alcohol exacerbates perimenopause and menopause symptoms
Over-drinking prevents the processing of hormones required to feel better during menopause from occurring as it biologically should be because the liver prioritizes detoxifying alcohol over processing hormones, as it constantly attempts to get the body back in to homeostasis. Dr. Fatima Khan shared: “There are biological processes that are impacted by consuming alcohol in the perimenopause and menopause phase. Many patients tell me that their menopausal symptoms such as mood symptoms, cognitive symptoms, headaches, poor sleep, hot flushes, and night sweats are greatly exacerbated when they drink too much.”
Thrivalist Member Deb shared that since quitting drinking her menopausal symptoms have dramatically improved: “My skin has remarkedly improved and I no longer get indigestion (something I never had before menopause), so in my opinion the combination of alcohol and menopause caused GI issues to become a problem. I also have experienced a huge reduction in hot flushes, reduced inflammation even though my diet has not changed, and my brain function has improved substantially.”
Thrivalist Member Ada shared that he also had experienced huge improvements with her menopausal symptoms since getting sober. “My skin & hair are looking & feeling fantastic (my hair had thinned dramatically), my body shape has completely changed, I have lost all the ‘menopausal weight’ people say you cannot move, and my night sweats are massively reduced “.
How can we naturally feel better during this phase?
Proactively addressing your health in a holistic manner will support you to feel much better during this phase in your life. Diet, exercise, and all the usual self-care fundamentals are paramount.
If you are over-drinking, reducing, or eliminating alcohol consumption will almost immediately reduce perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms.
Stress management is another powerful way to minimize symptoms. According to Khan, her patients who do yoga, don’t drink alcohol, eat healthy plant-based diets, do strength training, and continuously manage their stress levels, won’t experience perimenopausal or menopausal symptoms. And on the flip side, her patients who work 12-hour days, have constantly activated nervous systems, not taking care of their health properly, will be experiencing hot flushes every hour.
If you are looking for support to cut down or quit drinking, Thrivalist offers a holistic approach to changing your relationship with alcohol, in an empowered way.
Connect with Dr. Fatima Khan here on here her Instagram page, where she shares valuable and powerful content relating to perimenopause and menopause.