What You Will Learn in This Article
- How alcohol impacts your hormones and overall health
- Contributes to Estrogen Dominance
- Impacts the liver
- Disrupts the gut microbiome and likely the estrobolome
- Increases blood sugar
- Heightens cortisol
- Acidifies the body
- Destroys sleep – especially deep sleep
- The role of the beta-glucuronidase enzyme
- Solutions for alcohol woes
- The bottom line
The holiday season and its gatherings tend to provide an abundance of mulled wine, spiked eggnog, Rumchata, peppermint schnapps, and a whole host of other forms of wines, beers, hard liquors, and cocktails.
It’s not surprising. Alcohol is a social lubricant and therefore shows up frequently at holiday parties and events. It starts at Thanksgiving and keeps going strong through the New Year.
We use alcohol when we’re sad, feeling lonely, battling depression. The holidays can bring out these feelings, leading us to reach for a drink as we seek to ease the painful feelings and memories.
Limiting or eliminating alcohol is one of the harder changes to make because of its impact on mood. We drink to celebrate and we drink to self-medicate… so we’re basically conditioned to drink all day and all year long!
Unfortunately, alcohol is a toxin that negatively impacts our health and overall sense of balance. In the long run, self-medicating with alcohol does more harm than good. Now that the holidays are coming to a close, it’s time to take a look at our alcohol consumption as we make resolutions and goals for the new year.
How Alcohol Impacts Your Hormones And Overall Health
Here are just a few of the problems associated with alcohol consumption:
Contributes to Estrogen Dominance
If you’re trying to overcome estrogen dominance, consuming alcohol could be counterproductive. Unfortunately, alcohol tends to make estrogen dominance worse.
There are several potential reasons for this. One is that alcohol tends to be high in phytoestrogen-rich herbs or grains like hops and corn, which can sometimes aggravate estrogen dominance. (1)
Another way alcohol may increase estrogen levels is by its negative effects on the liver, as explained below. When the body is overwhelmed with the presence of alcohol, it gives priority to eliminating the alcohol over eliminating the estrogens. It does this because alcohol is more dangerous to the body in the short term than excess estrogen is.
Alcohol may also make it difficult for the body to metabolize estrogen by damaging the estrobolome (estrogen-metabolizing bacteria) in the gut. Read more about that in the sections below.
While the exact reasons alcohol raises estrogen levels are unknown, there’s definitely evidence that it does.
A study published in the journal Hormones and Cancer found that consuming just two drinks a day for four weeks increased estrogen levels by 22 percent! The study authors concluded that because of its effects on estrogen, drinking alcohol could increase one’s risk of developing breast cancer. (2)
A previous study of over 300,000 women found that the risk of breast cancer quadruples with the intake of each daily glass of wine or beer. (3)
That makes sense when you know the connection between toxicity and cancers of all kinds. The liver is our primary detox organ and it doesn’t do well on alcohol.
Impacts The Liver
One of the reasons alcohol contributes to estrogen dominance is its negative impact on the liver…. The liver is a key organ in both estrogen and alcohol detoxification.
The liver cells contain something called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), an enzyme that converts alcohol to acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is fairly toxic and is the cause of the symptoms of intoxication. It’s also behind common alcohol-related symptoms like flushing and headaches. (4)
Once the alcohol has been converted into acetaldehyde, a second enzyme in the liver cells (acetaldehyde dehydrogenase or ALDH) then converts the dangerous acetaldehyde to acetic acid, which is not toxic to the body. Vinegar is made up of acetic acid.
If there aren’t enough enzymes to break down the alcohol, it recirculates in the bloodstream —just as unmetabolized estrogen does.
We know alcohol taxes the liver and can cause fatty liver disease over time. (5)
Read this article to learn more about how liver function impacts your hormones.
Disrupts The Gut Microbiome and Likely the Estrobolome
Alcohol is not good for your gut health. Over time, it leads to dysbiosis, increasing certain harmful types of bacteria (like Proteobacteria) out of balance with protective bacteria (like Firmicutes and Bacteriodetes).
According to a 2015 review published in Alcohol Research, alcohol’s effects on the microbiome are likely behind the development of leaky gut, chronic inflammation, fatty liver, and a number of other chronic diseases. (6)
The “estrobolome” is the name of a collection of bacteria of the gut that are responsible for metabolizing estrogens.
We know alcohol is damaging to our gut bacteria, and it’s most likely that these estrogen-metabolizing bacteria are also negatively impacted by alcohol. (7)
If you’re not able to eliminate or break down “used up” estrogens, they can get recirculated in the body, contributing to an overabundance of estrogens and leading to estrogen dominance.
Increases Blood Sugar Levels
While it sometimes comes in a clear form and looks like water, alcohol is not neutral. It comes with calories and it impacts blood sugar.
According to research, chronic drinking in the fed state (with or after food) leads to an increase in blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia). This doesn’t seem to be the case for a single episode of alcohol consumption. It’s the habit that really leads to problems, but that can easily be the case over the holidays. (8)
On the other hand, chronic drinking while avoiding food can lead to states of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). So, if you’re going to consume alcohol, it’s always best to have it along with a meal or snack.
Heightens Cortisol Levels
Not only does alcohol raise blood sugar, but it also can also raise cortisol levels. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, and alcohol is a stressor on the body, especially in higher amounts over time. (9).
That’s partly reflected in the fact that alcohol is linked to high blood pressure. (10)
When cortisol levels are disrupted, this leads to an imbalance in our HPA axis (Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis), resulting in adrenal fatigue, sleep issues, intolerance to stress, weight gain, and complete burnout.
Read more about adrenal fatigue here.
Contributes to Histamine Intolerance, Which Then Leads to Estrogen Dominance
As a fermented beverage, alcohol is high in histamine, which can lead to estrogen dominance. According to a study published in Gynecological Endocrinology, histamine stimulates the ovaries to produce more estrogen. The more histamine that’s around, the more estrogen is produced. (11)
It becomes a vicious cycle, because then estrogen stimulates the mast cells to release even more histamine. (12) It also lowers the activity of an enzyme called diamine oxidase or DAO, which is supposed to break down histamine and keep it from building up to high levels. (13)
The result is that you develop histamine intolerance or mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) alongside estrogen dominance.
Histamine Intolerance is the imbalance that occurs from the build up of histamine in the body and the inability to break it down. In healthy people the enzyme DAO helps to neutralize the excess histamine, keeping the body in balance. However, for those who have low DAO activity, histamine can build up to the point of toxicity.
Histamine Intolerance can lead to various forms of allergy-related, digestive, and other symptoms, including diarrhea, headaches, sinus issues, asthma, low blood pressure, hives, itching, flushing, food intolerances, neurological symptoms, and more. (14)
You can learn more about the connection between histamine and hormone imbalance in this article.
Acidifies The Body
Alcohol also has an acidifying effect on the body and diseases tend to thrive in acidic conditions. That’s because acidic conditions lead to low oxygen environments. As we know, our bodies depend on oxygen.
Toxic levels of alcohol lead to acidosis due to the inability of the body to clear it from the system quickly enough. That’s how people die of alcohol poisoning. (15)
Destroys Sleep —Especially Deep Sleep
While alcohol can make you feel sleepy and help you fall asleep faster, it, unfortunately, may prevent you from falling into a deep sleep —the restorative sleep you need for healing and balancing the body.
According to research published in a medical journal called Alcohol in 2015, drinking disrupts normal sleep patterns —particularly during the second half of the night. (16)
How your sleep is affected by drinking can give you a really good idea of how good your body is at metabolizing alcohol. So, if you notice a decline in sleep quality after drinking, you might not do as well on alcohol as you thought.
Read How to Fix Your Sleep After 45.
The Role of The Beta Glucuronidase Enzyme
The enzyme beta-glucuronidase helps in the breakdown of estrogen by the estrobolome mentioned above. It also helps break down used-up thyroid hormones, complex carbohydrates, and environmental toxins.
However, we don’t want the beta-glucuronidase to be too high. That can cause “dirty” estrogens to recirculate in the bloodstream and make estrogen dominance worse.
What causes beta-glucuronidase to become too high? An imbalance in the bacteria of the estrobolome. This is usually the result of a poor diet that’s high in processed foods, conventionally raised meat, and… alcohol.
If you truly want to overcome estrogen dominance and balance your hormones, it’s important to:
#1 Limit your intake of alcohol in general
#2 If you decide to indulge, make sure it’s not high in toxins, histamines, and sugar.
Solutions For Alcohol Woes
If you like a glass of wine with dinner or enjoy concocting fun cocktails, yet need to get your hormones in balance, all is not lost.
Figure Out Why You Need To Drink
The first thing to reflect upon is the reason(s) you are drawn to alcohol. Is it to numb feelings? Deal with problems? Is it a coping mechanism? Do you just order a drink to not feel left out? Maybe you enjoy the taste, or maybe you feel like you need the alcohol to have fun.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with an occasional drink, like a glass of wine with dinner or a cocktail with friends. But what is not okay is if we use alcohol as a daily crutch that helps us make it through the week.
There are some women that need 2 to 3 drinks to make it through the day. In that case, there’s a deeper issue going on, and it’s important to address the underlying root cause of the need to drink.
Be Your Own Best Judge On How Alcohol Impacts You
After figuring out why you reach for a glass of wine, beer, or a cocktail, consider how alcohol negatively impacts you.
- Do you find your sleep isn’t the best after a night out for drinks?
- Are you having difficulty balancing your blood sugar levels or losing weight?
- Do you generally feel like you’re under chronic stress?
Only you can know how alcohol is impacting your health and sense of overall balance.
The best solution is not to drink. There are lots of alternatives. You can make your own non-alcoholic cocktails, bring some digestive bitters with you and add to sparkling water, or even purchase non-alcoholic cocktails to have on hand.
Here are some non-alcoholic cocktail recipes for inspiration. (Use a natural sweetener like honey, stevia, or monk fruit instead of the sugar):
Festive Apple Cider Vinegar Digestive
Vanilla Grapefruit Electrolyte Drink
Paleo Old Fashioned Mocktail (calls for digestive bitters)
But maybe the virgin version just won’t cut it —especially on special occasions. In that case, there’s the “OK” solution.
The “OK” Solution is to have only 1-2 drinks a week and focus on these:
Best Options: Top-shelf tequila, Mezcal, whiskey, or vodka (usually use a triple distillation process to remove toxins and pollutants. Try these clean cocktails:
Pomegranate Martini or Blueberry Martini (and more)
For wine, opt for natural over organic as the natural ones are superior to wines simply made from organically raised grapes.
I recommend you get your wine from Dry Farm Wines or their sister label, Bolixir, which makes ultra-low alcohol- and low sugar-containing elixirs.
Dry Farm’s pure, natural wines are free from additives, made with native yeasts, and lab-tested for purity. They’re also sugar-free and low in alcohol, so you won’t have to regret your glass of wine the next morning.
The selections include reds, whites, roses, and sparkling. You can choose cases of all reds, whites, or a combination. You can also select how often you’d like to receive a case. It can even be set at once every three months if you want to limit how much you have on hand.
Bolixir Infusions are very low alcohol wines that have botanicals infused for extra flavor and health benefits. They have:
- Lavender Red – A red wine infused with organic lavender, rose, and nettle
Recommended pairing: nettle soup with freshly grated parmesan
- Dandelion White – A white wine infused with organic mint, dandelion, nettle, and hops
Recommended pairing: Raw vegetables drizzled with olive oil and sea salt)
- Elderflower Bubbles – A sparkling white wine infused with organic elderflowers
Recommended pairing: Oysters
- Rose Blossom Bubbles – A sparkling red wine infused with organic rose blossoms
Recommended pairing: Fresh strawberries)
Worst Options: The worst types of alcohol are beer, which is full of yeast, and cheap liquors – these are made with single distillation, which doesn’t remove very many toxins or pollutants.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that no matter how you look at it, drinking alcohol will not support your efforts toward hormone balance. However, if you’re looking for a wine that’s lower in toxins, sulfites, and histamines for an occasional dinner or special occasion, Dry Farm Wines and Bolixir Infusions come with my highest recommendations.
- Gavaler, J S. “Alcoholic beverages as a source of estrogens.” Alcohol health and research world. 1998.
- Hartman, Terryl J et al. “Alcohol Consumption and Urinary Estrogens and Estrogen Metabolites in Premenopausal Women.” Hormones & cancer. 2016.
- Romieu, Isabelle et al. “Alcohol intake and breast cancer in the European prospective investigation into cancer and nutrition.” International journal of cancer. 2015.
- Duke University. “How is Alcohol Eliminated From The Body?” The Alcohol Pharmacology Education Partnership. n.d.
- Lieber, Charles S. “Alcoholic fatty liver: its pathogenesis and mechanism of progression to inflammation and fibrosis.” Alcohol (Fayetteville, N.Y.). 2004.
- Engen, Phillip A et al. “The Gastrointestinal Microbiome: Alcohol Effects on the Composition of Intestinal Microbiota.” Alcohol research : current reviews. 2015.
- Kwa, Maryann et al. “The Intestinal Microbiome and Estrogen Receptor-Positive Female Breast Cancer.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute. April 2016.
- Emanuele, N V et al. “Consequences of alcohol use in diabetics.” Alcohol health and research world. 1998.
- Badrick, Ellena et al. “The relationship between alcohol consumption and cortisol secretion in an aging cohort.” The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism. 2008.
- Grogan, J R, and M S Kochar. “Alcohol and hypertension.” Archives of family medicine. 1994.
- Bódis, J et al. “The effect of histamine on progesterone and estradiol secretion of human granulosa cells in serum-free culture.” Gynecological endocrinology : the official journal of the International Society of Gynecological Endocrinology. 1993.
- Zaitsu, Masafumi et al. “Estradiol activates mast cells via a non-genomic estrogen receptor-alpha and calcium influx.” Molecular immunology. 2007.
- Fogel, W A. “Diamine oxidase (DAO) and female sex hormones.” Agents and actions. 1986.
- Maintz, Laura, and Natalija Novak. “Histamine and histamine intolerance.” The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2007.
- Halperin, M L et al. “Metabolic acidosis in the alcoholic: a pathophysiologic approach.” Metabolism: clinical and experimental. 1983.
- Thakkar, Mahesh M et al. “Alcohol disrupts sleep homeostasis.” Alcohol (Fayetteville, N.Y.). 2015.
Hello! I did a dry January in 2022 and extended it u til mid-February. I definitely noticed that my menstrual cycle in January was lighter and more manageable (no awful cramps!). I have read here and in other sources that it is best to reduce sugar (and therefore alcohol) after you have started ovulating (days 14 and on) because it affects the natural balance of estrogen and progesterone in the luteal phase? I wonder if consumption of alcohol / sugar in the luteal phase is somehow linked to the presence of cramps during the following cycle? Can you confirm this or direct me to any more information related to that? Thanks!
Hi Mariel, congrats on a successful dry start to the year. Alcohol and sugar consumption can affect both estrogen and progesterone balance at any time of your cycle. Both will cause an inflammatory response in the body, influencing a cascade of various effects contributing to pre-menstruation symptoms. ~HB Support