Part of our culture is to drink a glass of wine here and there or here and here. I won’t lie, I feel like having a glass of wine once in a while and when we meet friends it will probably include a drink or two. We know that too much alcohol is not great for our health. We know that when we are pregnant we should stay away from drinking as it can affect our fetus but what do we know about alcohol consumption during the time we want to conceive? What do we know about the effect of alcohol on our menstrual cycle and hormones?
As a Fertility Awareness Educator and a menstruator, I need to educate myself on these topics in order to be able to educate others. So I started to look for info about this interesting subject and guess what? There is no research done on those subjects directly but I found many other research articles that can be very beneficial and we can assume or at least learn from them.
Firstly, I started by looking at the impact of alcohol on premenstrual female hormones. I found out that alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer. According to one research study, evidence is consistent that intake, even of less than 10 – 15 grams per day where 250ml of red wine with 12.5% vol has about 14 – 16g of alcohol, is associated with increased risk of this disease. In addition, evidence although less extensive shows that possible early indicators of risk, such as benign breast disease and increased breast density are associated with alcohol consumption.
There are many studies that support this fact about the correlation between alcohol and breast cancer but not much research was done on why it is happening. One study I found talking about what the link might be is that prolonged exposure to estrogens has been related to the elevated incidence of breast cancer in humans. Estrogen may induce breast cancer through a genotoxic effect. In premenopausal adult women, alcohol intake has been associated with higher circulating levels of estradiol and estrone.
In another study, they took 34 premenopausal women aged 21 – 40 years with a history of regular menstrual cycles and who consumed 30g, about 2 glasses, of wine a day for 3 cycles and they all had the same diet as the control group with no alcohol consumption. The study shows that there was an increase in the total estrogen in the group that was consuming alcohol.
Another big study shows the correlation between 10 g of alcohol a day and elevated estrogens and the link between that and breast cancer and other estrogen-related conditions. Can you already see the connection here? It is already a good indication of how alcohol can throw our hormones out of balance.
If we take it one step further, there are also studies showing that alcohol consumption and in addition, a shorter menstrual cycle was reported by premenopausal women with moderate alcohol consumption as compared to non-drinkers, suggesting increased exposure to endogenous estrogens. Apparently, while the liver is the main organ to metabolize, normal human breast tissue has the capacity to metabolize ethanol at low concentrations, but it’s in this process that there might be some carcinogenic products of alcohol.
Another aspect is that it can cause an acute elevation of the total testosterone levels in premenopausal women which can result in facial hair, acne and other symptoms. That can be explained by the change in the metabolism in the liver, another implication on our hormones.
Lastly, it is important to understand the toll alcohol takes on the liver. The liver detoxifies poisons, both those produced by the body and those from outside; regulates fat metabolism; stores and manufactures vitamins; regulates and manufactures cholesterol and fats; synthesizes proteins; maintains the body’s water and salt balance; secretes bile for the digestion of fat; stores energy in the form of glycogen which helps regulate overall body metabolism; transforms the highly toxic ammonia produced by exercise and by the metabolism of proteins into urea which is eliminated in the urine and metabolizes alcohol. The liver stores energy and nutrients and produces proteins and enzymes necessary for optimum health. It protects the body from disease and eliminates toxins like alcohol by eventually metabolizing it into carbon dioxide and water, but this process takes lots of energy and it can stop doing its job if there is too much. Another job it has is to help metabolize estrogen but if we already have too much estrogen and too much to do, we end up with huge hormonal imbalances and studies show that women are more prone to liver diseases due to alcohol than men.
We also have to remember that daily consumption of alcohol increases insulin secretion and that can lead to other health issues which I will not get into here.
Each body is different and has a different genetic history with different sensitivities and one cannot know how much is too much. If you are wanting to conceive or even just maintain a healthy lifestyle, just be mindful of these things.
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