What Does Alcohol Do To Our Hormones?
Did you know that there are over 50 hormones in the human body? Tasked with controlling everything from metabolism to sleep, healthy hormones keep our bodies running a peek performance.
There are lots of things that we do that interfere with hormone function – but one of the cost common factors is alcohol consumption.
Alcohol and Hormones
No one would bother drinking alcohol if it didn’t make them feel good. But the buzz that comes with a drink or two is actually down to hormones.
“Alcohol makes us feel good because it releases our feel-good neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin,” explains Belinda Kirkpatrick, a naturopath and nutritionist and author of ‘Healthy Hormones’.
The downside is that the buzz is temporary. In fact, Belinda (pictured above) tells me that the research points to a correlation between alcohol and cortisol, the body’s stress hormone – which is bad news for our wellbeing. “Long-term elevated cortisol can be a catalyst for weight gain and increase the risk of several chronic diseases,” Belinda adds.
Hormones and the menstrual cycle
For women, it’s important to be aware of the impact alcohol has our menstrual cycle. Belinda notes that it’s down to the impact that alcohol has on our liver. “One of the liver’s primary responsibilities is clearing excess alcohol, toxins, and hormones, including oestrogen. If the liver has excess amounts of alcohol to detoxify, it won’t metabolise and remove excess oestrogen, leading to oestrogen dominance,” Belinda explains.
“Oestrogen dominance can disrupt fertility and cause hormonal balances, hindering ovulation and leading to mood swings, irritability, heavy periods, fatigue, weight gain, menstrual pain, and fluid retention,” she adds.
Belinda also notes that women who drink excessively are more likely to experience menstrual disorders, including irregular cycle lengths, secondary amenorrhoea (no bleed for three months or more), and anovulation (where ovulation doesn’t occur). “These hormonal shifts occur because excess circulating oestrogen reduces the body’s ability to produce enough progesterone and follicle-stimulating hormone, both required for ovulation and fertility,” she explains.
On top of this, the negative effect that alcohol can have on our sleep can also wreak havoc on our hormones. “Alcohol inhibits the body’s ability to fall into a deep restorative sleep; the type of sleep we need for repairing and restoring. Sleep deprivation directly influences cortisol production, which can negatively impact hormonal balance and contribute to heavy menstrual bleeding, irregular menstrual cycles, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS),” says Belinda.
Alarmingly, Belinda also notes that ongoing research also links alcohol-induced excess oestrogen to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
What can we do to improve hormone function?
Belinda suggests limiting alcohol consumption to no more than two standard drinks per day for women who aren’t attempting to conceive, with a minimum of 2-4 alcohol-free days per week. And no more than three standard drinks, with a minimum of two alcohol-free days a week for men. She also suggests that women who are planning to conceive try to abstain from alcohol.
Alcohol-free drinks can play an important role in reducing alcohol consumption and drinking more mindfully.
Want some more tips for improving your hormone function? Here are Belinda’s top five tips.
- Focus on increasing your consumption of cruciferous vegetables, a family of vegetables that include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts and kale. These support liver function which can help clear out excess oestrogen.
- Drink dandelion and nettle tea to assist liver detoxification.
- Reduce your intake of stimulants and processed foods, including sugar, caffeine, excess grains, desserts, and alcohol.
- Aim to consume 30g of fibre daily to assist the liver’s ability to clear out excess oestrogen and support the digestive system. Increase your fibre through fruit and veggies, chia seeds, flax seeds, legumes, psyllium husk and whole grains.
- Water assists liver detoxification and is essential for kidney and digestive health. Aim for eight glasses of water a day, and add one more for every cup of alcohol, caffeinated tea, or coffee you drink.