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Menopause and alcohol: Is it better to stop drinking?

During lockdown, I’ve found that menopause and alcohol go together far too easily. But apart from the lockdown lard of weight gain, is your favourite tipple affecting your menopause symptoms?

With the pressure of symptoms on top of all the daily stress we put up with in midlife, it’s no surprise so many of us settle down with a relaxing glass of something at night. However, many women say menopause and alcohol is a dangerous cocktail, making them feel worse, not merrier.

So is it better to stop drinking during menopause?

Hot flushes and alcohol

Anecdotally, many women say drinking makes their hot flushes – or hot flashes, if you’re American – worse. Red wine is often cited as a trigger for flushes and night sweats.

However, some studies suggest that perimenopausal women who drink are at lower risk of the dreaded flush than those who have never drank, so alcohol could be a boon.

“The results of this study suggest that light, infrequent alcohol consumption may benefit some women experiencing hot flashes.”

There is one word you need to note in that sentence: perimenopausal, which, if you’ve read my guide to menopause terms, you’ll know means the years immediately before the menopause itself. Some studies have suggested that after that, when you’re post-menopausal, alcohol can indeed contribute to hot flushes. I’ve heard of women well into their 70s suffering from hot flushes (sorry to lay that on you) so perhaps that medicinal wee nip at night could be to blame.

Alcohol and hormones

Our hormones are a finely-tuned system that keeps us working. Each one acts like a chemical messenger, carrying out its function to the best of its capacity. It’s not the local courier service that chucks your delivery on your doorstep and then scarpers. Oh no. Definitely not.

Until its had a drink, that is. Then it’s all over the shop, staggering around and failing to do its task correctly.

Studies show that alcohol can have a major impact on our endocrine system (that’s the posh name for the glands that produce and secrete hormones). It plays havoc with the hormones that regulate our blood sugar levels, making them lower than normal and triggering your nervous system to shout out for food to get the balance right.

menopause and alcohol
Memories The welcome party when I was a guest at an organic wine fair in Montpellier

The result are the likes of palpitations, jitters, panic attacks, anxiety and hot flushes. I get really ragey when I want food, too, and I’m ragey enough in menopause without adding to it.

Studies also suggest that “social drinking” can be enough to trigger an early menopause.

Menopause and alcohol means forget about sleep

There are very few of us who haven’t dropped into a deep, alcohol-induced sleep at some point – but did you really sleep? Or did you wake up the next morning after a fretful night feeling like you were about to die from tiredness?

Although it’s a sedative, alcohol actually stops us getting the right sort of sleep we need to replenish our bodies and wake up feeling as fresh as a daisy. You’re more likely to feel like the compost the daisy is growing in.

Our falling oestrogen levels in midlife and menopause can also disrupt our sleep patterns, making insomnia a fact of life for many menopausal women. You can also add in night sweats that can have you waking several times.

Menopause and alcohol is a double-whammy for your sleep. I know that if I have a full-bodied red wine, then I’m not going to sleep well that night.

Sleep is vital for our physical and mental wellbeing so follow my top tips for a good night’s sleep rather than cracking open the Baileys. As lovely as it is.

Wait! It’s not all bad news…

Believe it or not, there are some benefits from light to moderate drinking, including:

But what is light to moderate drinking?

When it comes to menopause and alcohol, we need to understand the limit between light to moderate drinking and drinking too much. The NHS advises:

  • no more than 14 units of alcohol a week on a regular basis;
  • spread those units out over three or more days, and
  • have several drink-free days each week.

The trouble is: what is a unit? With so many different strengths and sizes of alcohol available and quite complicated maths formulas, it’s easy to get confused (especially when you failed your maths O-level five times). So I’ve created an easy guide to help:

What am I going to do?

I know better than many how excessive drinking can destroy lives – and yet…

And yet, I don’t want to stop, despite what some say about menopause and alcohol. Having a drink with Mr 50Sense and putting the world to right is a joy. Going to the pub for a pint before going to watch football is a joy. Meeting my friends for a giggle on a night out over a glass of fizz is a definite joy.

I enjoy having a drink: from sitting in a top restaurant and having a sommelier choose the right wine for the meal to chilling with a cold lager in a backstreet-pub beer garden on a hot day – and yes, drowning my sorrows when Hibs or Rayo fail to win. They’re a part of my culture and something I don’t want to give up.

But I do know that I can’t drink as easily as I did in the past, when we’d hit a nightclub and then go on to sixth-form lectures the next day. (This isn’t just menopause and alcohol. Both men and women suffer: our bodies lose the ability to retain as much water as we age and with less water in our system, the alcohol dehydrates us more.)

So no, I’m not going to stop – but I am watching my intake and weighing up whether that cabernet sauvignon is worth the sleepless night. As with everything, knowing what alcohol does to us in menopause is key to taking control.

I’ll raise a glass to that to that.

If you think the amount your drinking is a problem, visit Alcoholics Anonymous for free, confidential help – they really can help you transform your life for the better. You can also call free on 0800 917 7650.

How are you treating menopause and alcohol? Are there drinks that make your symptoms worse? Let me know in the comments below

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