Celebrities like Blake Lively and Jennifer Lopez are huge advocates for living a (largely) sober lifestyle - and with the bunch of health benefits that come with breaking up with booze, it’s easy to see why. But could quitting alcohol help you with your period health symptoms?
- Drinking too much alcohol can cause hormonal imbalances
- Alcohol doesn’t numb period pain - it can make it worse
- Conditions like endometriosis and PCOS are exacerbated by alcohol use
- Alcohol is a depressant - which means it can make PMS anxiety even worse
Alcohol and Our Menstrual Health
We all know that drinking too much alcohol isn’t great for our health - but how does it impact our hormones and menstrual health specifically?
Alcohol and Hormonal Balance
Excessive alcohol consumption can affect our hormones in many ways. Firstly it is known to spike cortisol, which can raise our stress and anxiety levels (more on that later…) and this rise in cortisol can have a knock-on effect on the rest of our hormones.
Research also shows that alcohol can directly impact the sex hormones involved in our menstrual cycle. Firstly, it’s known to increase oestrogen levels - which might sound like a good thing, considering we often refer to oestrogen as the ‘feel good hormone’ that’ takes the lead in our follicular phase. But the truth is that too much oestrogen (aka oestrogen dominance) can lead to a whole host of period health issues including increased PMS, lower sex drive and heavier bleeds.
Drinking a lot of alcohol is also thought to increase the levels of androgens (like testosterone) in our blood. Having high testosterone levels can lead to irregularities in our cycle, as well as issues with acne - something that’s particularly prevalent among people with PCOS!
Alcohol and Period Pain
If you’re struggling with period cramps, you might be tempted to reach for a glass of wine to numb the pain - but this would be an error.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it increases urination and can cause dehydration - which is why you feel like your mouth is in the Sahara desert when you wake up with a hangover.
Dehydration around the time of your period can actually make cramps worse. If you become dehydrated, blood flow to the uterus is impaired and this causes your uterus to cramp even more aggressively to counteract the lack of blood volume and fluids. There also seems to be a link between alcohol consumption and the production of prostaglandins - the hormones responsible for period cramps - so a boozy night can increase period pain in more ways than one!
Alcohol and Inflammation
One of the other key causes of period pain is inflammation - and this is especially true if you are living with endometriosis, a full-body inflammatory disease. If you are trying to reduce inflammation in the body you want to be eating foods and drinks that are natural anti-inflammatories, and guess what? Alcohol is not on that list.
Studies have shown that when your body breaks down alcohol, a bunch of inflammatory compounds are produced and they hang around in the body causing havoc for your hormones and your health. Chronic alcohol consumption can also have a huge impact on your gut health - and once your gut microbiome is out of whack, inflammation can really thrive!
Alcohol and Mental Health
Lastly, let’s look at the impact of alcohol on our moods and mental health. Anyone with a menstrual cycle knows that as our hormones fluctuate, so do our emotions. Whilst intense mood swings aren’t something we should have to live with, a little increased sensitivity around our period is pretty normal.
However, put excessive alcohol drinking into the equation and you’ve got a recipe for mental well-being disaster. Alcohol is a known depressant which means it can disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in your brain which can affect how you process thoughts and feelings.
At times in our cycle when we feel most sensitive (usually in our luteal phase when progesterone is dominant) we can already feel increased stress and anxiety. In fact, 64% of people who have periods say they struggle with pre-menstrual anxiety. Considering over 22% of people report feeling ‘anxiety’ the day after a heavy night of drinking, it’s easy to see how avoiding hangovers around the time of our period could help our mental health.
So should you quit drinking to improve your menstrual health?
Going sober may be becoming a more popular lifestyle choice - but it is still a personal one. It’s clear that excessive alcohol can have an impact on our menstrual (as well as overall) health, so if you think the amount you’re drinking could be contributing to certain symptoms, it might be worth considering cutting down.
The truth is that the odd Gin and Tonic isn’t going to impact your period, but leading an imbalanced lifestyle where alcohol dominates the majority of your relaxation time will eventually take its toll on your body - and your hormones.
Tips For Cutting Down On Alcohol
If you think you could benefit from breaking up with booze, here are a few of our top tips:
- Tell your friends what you’re doing and why - it will help to have their support and will make social engagements less intimidating
- Research fun alcohol-free alternatives - you don’t have to stick to squash and tea! Nowadays you can great alcohol-free dupes of your favourite spirits to make mocktails at home.
- Take up hobbies that aren't centred around drinking - In Western culture so much of our social life revolves around alcohol, but why not invite your friends on a hike or for a day of crafting?
Ask for support - If you’re finding giving up alcohol harder than you thought it would be or are concerned you may be struggling with addiction, talk to your doctor or reach out to organisations like Alcoholics Anonymous who can get you the help you need.