Go sober with Club Soda! Founder Laura Willoughby shares her thoughts on alcohol & menopause.
It’s Alcohol Awareness Week…
Laura Willoughby from Club Soda, a Mindful Drinking Movement, shares her thoughts about alcohol & menopause, and the risks she sees for women in perimenopause and beyond.
HOW DOES ALCOHOL IMPACT ON THE MENOPAUSE?
In our ever-evolving march towards equality, many things get better. But when it comes to women's biology I just want to shout, ‘not fair’. Take for example, the menopause. A change coming just at the point in life when you want things to calm down and get a bit easier. Instead, your body throws you another curve ball. The body’s unpredictability is unnerving.
I considered including women’s inability to process alcohol as well as men, as another ‘unfair’, or that alcohol gives women an increased cancer risk over men. But I am, after being 5 years’ alcohol-free, re-evaluating what ‘unfair’ means in relation to alcohol. It is after all, a poison and the body processes it as such. Hangovers and blackouts are the body’s response to not being able to process excess alcohol. Nowadays, I realise that the unfairness is not about how much we drink, but the fact that society perpetuates the myth that alcohol is a treat, something to be desired. In fact, every sip does us harm, mentally, physically and emotionally. Regardless of what tabloid studies may say!
This is not a temperance rant. I believe we all have a right to do what we want to do with our bodies but I still have a small bit of envy for those people who can have one glass and no more. My ‘off-switch’ broke when I was 35 and alcohol was becoming a form of self-harm. I’m much happier now I’m free from all of that. As I reach an age where I’m diving head first into perimenopause, I’m glad I stopped drinking when I did because alcohol and menopause don’t mix well, at all.
Bottom line, if you’re looking to make a single life change that could have a profound effect on your overall health making the menopause easier for you, I recommend, rethinking your level of drinking. Alcohol affects so many things in life; sleep, stress, relationships, productivity, weight, libido (the list is long). Moderating drinking or going alcohol-free will help. Just think what you might be prepared to spend on a pill that would sort out these concerns! Getting a handle on how much you drink does all of those things and saves you money!
STARTING PERIMENOPAUSE ON THE BACK FOOT!
If you’ve been drinking heavily through your 30s and 40s (and when I say ‘heavily’, I mean anything over half a bottle of wine a night), you’ll already be feeling the impact on your mental health, sleep, weight and stress levels. You’ll be starting perimenopause on the back-foot, health wise. In fact, you may not even notice the change, as alcohol can mask or impact on menopausal symptoms.
Alcohol can trigger menopause symptoms, such as hot flushes and night sweats, as it raises your internal body temperature. It can also affect your sleep patterns and cause weight gain. If your mood and energy levels are already affected by alcohol, drinking too much during perimenopause could trigger or make depression, mood swings or anxiety worse. So, for those of you who are peri-menopausal, it might be a good idea to get your drinking under control before the big hormonal changes hit, so you know what ‘normal’ feels like, and also understand better how the menopause may be affecting you.
HRT, ALCOHOL AND BREAST CANCER
There’s strong evidence that Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) can cause some types of cancer (breast, womb and ovarian) The Million Women Study found a link between different types of HRT and an increased risk of different cancers.
The study showed alcohol can raise oestrogen levels thus increasing breast cancer risk by raising levels of this hormone. So even light drinking, one drink per day, may increase your risk. There appears to be an association between regularly drinking alcohol while taking HRT and increased breast cancer risk. And this increase in risk is higher than it would be by drinking alcohol alone or taking HRT alone.
As we get older, our risk of heart disease increases. The British Heart Foundation say there’s a small increased risk of stroke for post-menopausal women. And you guessed it, drinking alcohol above the recommended levels, can increase this risk alongside the changes to weight and blood pressure which can have a harmful effect on the heart. (There’s no evidence that hormone replacement therapy affects risk either way).
Women are more likely than men, to get osteoporosis, unfair, I know! Oestrogen, the hormone that protects our bones, decreases sharply when we reach menopause, causing bone loss. The chances of developing osteoporosis increase as women reach menopause. NHS Choices recommend quitting smoking and reducing drinking to counter this.
If you have healthy bones by the time the menopause hits that certainly helps. But there’s evidence that heavy alcohol use, especially during adolescence and young adult years, can dramatically affect bone health and increase the risk of osteoporosis. So, a drinker’s bone health is already likely to be compromised before the aggravating menopause hits. Not sure how much you actually drink? Take the Club Soda survey, find out and then take steps to deal with this.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
Nearly everything your body puts you through in menopause is exacerbated by alcohol. Whilst you can’t undo the harm caused by your drinking in previous years, learning to moderate or going alcohol-free can make things better going forward, not just in terms of menopause, but also your health in general.
At 43, I’m now making up for lost time when it comes to my health. Having already quit drinking makes that much easier, and I’m thankful that the hard bit is done. Now for the next challenge, my addiction to cake!