Alcohol & Your Hormones

How does alcohol impact our hormones and overall health? We know that alcohol increases estrogen levels, which often leads to unwanted symptoms for many women (PMS, period pain, mood changes, acne, sluggish thyroid, fibroids, etc.), but it impacts many other areas of our health that can trickly down and impact hormones.

How Alcohol Impacts The Body

  • Estrogen: alcohol increases estrogen levels in the blood and changes how the body metabolizes estrogen.
  • Digestion: alters gut bacteria and intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and drives inflammation.
  • Liver: completely stops fat burning and detox—this can cause fat and estrogen to accumulate (beer belly is not from beer—it’s from estrogen).
  • Nutrients: depletes B1, B12, folate and zinc—these are important for stomach acid production, hormones, detox, and so much more.
  • Cortisol: increases cortisol production and can lead to hormone imbalances and low testosterone.
  • Acidic Blood: stimulates breakdown of bone to release calcium (this neutralizes blood)—high calcium on HTMA.
  • Sleep: reduces restful sleep and disrupts circadian rhythm—leading to reduced ability to learn and retain information and blood sugar imbalances.

How Our Bodies Process Alcohol

Like the food we eat, alcohol is absorbed through our digestive tract and makes its way to our bloodstream. If we drink on an empty stomach, our gastric emptying is faster since nothing is in there but the alcohol—this means faster absorption. If we have food in our stomach before drinking (mainly a mix of protein, fat, and carb), this slows gastric emptying and absorption of alcohol. This is why it’s important to never drink on an empty stomach.

This is called the first-pass metabolism—some alcohol may be oxidized in the stomach by ADH (an enzyme that breaks down alcohol)—if it is, you get less alcohol in circulation in the body and less of a reaction to it. If your ADH is less active, you get more alcohol in the system and are more sensitive to alcohol. Food is the best way to control this as it slows gastric emptying, which slows how quickly alcohol gets into circulation.

The Liver’s Role In Alcohol Processing

The majority of our ADH and other enzymes that break down alcohol are present in the liver. Ethanol is the nutrient in alcohol that has to be broken down and has 7 calories per gram. Unlike other nutrients that can be stored or used in the body in time of need, alcohol cannot be stored. It’s also not regulated by hormones like other nutrients. This puts a significant burden on the liver to remove alcohol from the body.

The slower your metabolism, the slower you process alcohol and vice versa. The ability to oxidize and use alcohol is the same as our ability to use other nutrients like the energy from our food. The major difference is that before our body uses the energy from our food, it has to process all the alcohol we drink.

How Do I Know If I Should Avoid Alcohol?

Alcohol in small amounts (1-2 drinks per week) can be totally fine for some during the healing process. If you’re someone that doesn’t have a lot of stress, has a good relationship with alcohol, and doesn’t feel awful after having it, then you can likely tolerate one drink a week without adverse side effects. If you have a lot of stress, estrogen dominance, thyroid issues, liver health concerns, autoimmune conditions, constipation, or are struggling with fertility; I would try to avoid it as much as you can. I would also recommend for those using hormone replacement therapy (HRT) that they avoid alcohol since it does increase estrogen.

How To Support Your Body If You Choose To Drink

If and when you do decide to indulge in alcohol, there are specific things you can do to support your body and minize the negative side effects:

  • Always have alcohol with food (protein, fat, and carb).
  • Take extra beef liver capsules before and after to replenish vitamins and minerals (2 extra each).
  • Eat an extra carrot the day of and day after to help get excess estrogen and bacteria out.
  • Add in an extra adrenal elixir the day after (or of) to replenish electrolytes.
  • Take an extra binder before bed or the next morning if needed.
  • Castor oil packs the day after.
  • Prioritize fiber rich foods (beans, plantains, potatoes, fruit, cooked greens) the days after to help remove excess estrogen.

While I don’t think we should live in fear of things, I think alcohol is very normalized in our society. This can make it difficult to see its impact on our health and can skew what is normal vs. healthy when it comes to alcohol. If you drink more than the recommended 1-2 drinks per week, this could be a good time to evaluate your relationship with alcohol and what is driving you to drink it. A great resource for this is a book called Sober Curious. It’s judgment-free and just asks you to get curious about your habits around alcohol.

Here are some other great resources to check out:

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Amanda Montalvo

Amanda Montalvo is a women's health dietitian who helps women find the root cause of hormone imbalances and regain healthy menstrual cycles.

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