With specialist menopause nutritionist Emma Bardwell
Menopause is the hot topic of the moment, but there's a lot that we are only just learning about. With October being World Menopause Month, we want to open up the conversation around alcohol and women’s health.
The ritual of a glass of something delicious at the end of the day can help you unwind, which is super important when you've got a hundred and one things to juggle. But alcohol has been shown to exacerbate some of the symptoms experienced during perimenopause and menopause. The biological changes that happen in a woman’s body during this period mean that menopause and alcohol can be a particularly unhelpful combination. Reducing alcohol intake or cutting drinking out completely during menopause can help alleviate its symptoms and reduce the chance of long-term health issues.
We sat down with specialist menopause nutritionist Emma Bardwell to chat about all-things-alcohol and women’s health…
IMPACT OF ALCOHOL ON WOMEN’S HEALTH
Emma: “The issue with alcohol is that it increases risk of cancer, especially breast cancer. It messes with sleep patterns, increases food cravings, worsens anxiety and is detrimental for hot flushes, night sweats, mood and energy. It's also really unhelpful for your good gut bacteria which is why lots of women find their gut health suffers after alcohol. It damages the gut lining and can result in what’s known as leaky gut – which is where the tight junctions that make up your intestine become permeable and let undigested food molecules and other unhelpful things into your bloodstream. Alcohol also puts you at an increased risk of Alzheimers.”
ALCOHOL AS A CARCINOGEN: UNDERSTANDING ITS POTENCY
Emma: “Alcohol is pretty potent. It’s classed as a carcinogen, so it does have some quite brutal effects on the nutrients in our body. It can interfere with the production of serotonin (the neurotransmitter responsible for making us feel happy) and can also stop us synthesising B12 and vitamin K. These are both very important for perimenopausal women – for mood, energy and bone health. Alcohol chews up all vitamins, especially vitamins C and the B vitamins, and minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron, selenium and zinc. It can also affect the absorption of vitamin D, so that supplement you take religiously is affected by a big night on the turps.”
MENOPAUSE, ALCOHOL AND THE MENSTRUAL CYCLE: A SENSITIVE CONNECTION
Emma: “Where you are in your cycle might affect how you metabolise alcohol too. During the first phase (i.e. from day 1 of your period until you ovulate around day 14), you may well find you feel the effects quickly. Whereas during the second half of your cycle, you may well be able to drink a lot more without feeling drunk. This is definitely something to be aware of.
We lose our ability to hold on to water along with our oestrogen, so this is why mid-lifers get such hideous hangovers. Basically the alcohol is more concentrated in our systems. We also lose the enzyme called dehydrogenase which breaks down alcohol as we get older.
Plus, a lot of women become more histamine-intolerant during perimenopause so alcohol really makes them feel terrible and can cause symptoms such as flushing, redness, itchiness, runny eyes and headaches and nausea. Wine is particularly high in histamine and this is why women often tell me they feel allergic to it suddenly.”
ALCOHOL-FREE RITUALS: NAVIGATING MENOPAUSE WITH MOTHER ROOT
Emma: “I recommend Mother Root mainly because I adore the taste. There are a lot of alcohol alternatives on the market now but so few of them are actually delicious. I also love the ritual of making it. I use a pub measure to pour out a ’shot’ and mix with Fever Tree elderflower tonic, exactly as I would make a G&T. I add a single, very large, ice cube, a slice of fresh orange and a sprig of rosemary. It marks the end of a working day and the beginning of my relaxation. I will usually have it before dinner as this is when I’d normally feel like pouring myself an alcoholic drink. The added benefit that Mother Root contains apple cider vinegar means it’s helpful for digestion too.”