The festive season is over and January is here. Most of us have eaten and drunk too much, including some of the women on our programme. Our January consultations are often like confessionals. But now it’s time to get ourselves back into good shape. We need to make resolutions about being healthier for the new year and stick to them until we begin to feel better. The plan is to eat better, drink less and exercise more. I know many of you will decide to do “Dry January” to mitigate the excesses of the last few weeks. However, you may find by not drinking alcohol you start to feel better as your menopause symptoms may seem less severe. It’s one of the first recommendations I make to anyone on our programme as it helps almost immediately.
Why is that?
Alcohol along with caffeine can affect the frequency and severity of menopause symptoms. As we age, our bodies become more sensitive to the effects of alcohol on our systems. We need water in our bodies to dilute alcohol and unfortunately at the time of menopause this becomes more of a problem because our cartilage and tendons lose water and therefore the body holds less water. This means that the alcohol is absorbed more quickly and has more effect on the body. Some women report feeling happier but in others it leads to depression. In particular drinking alcohol can cause hot flushes, night sweats and it can have a detrimental effect on sleep.
Can I drink during menopause?
The answer is yes however, everyone reacts differently to alcohol particularly at menopause. You may be lucky and be one of those menopausal where alcohol has no effect.
According to health guidelines published on Healthline most healthy women should not consume more than one drink per day or seven drinks per week to minimise health risks during this time. One drink is defined as one of the following: a small glass of wine, standard bottle of beer and one regular measure of spirits such as gin or vodka. However, women have low levels of nutrients at midlife and alcohol can further impede the absorption of important nutrients, which is contrary to what’s needed at this time. Our recommendations are therefore to consume no more than two units of alcohol per week whilst you are going through what we refer to a ‘Midlife Refuel’.
There are other reasons why women should consider cutting down their alcohol consumption in midlife.
Minimising risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease
There is much discussion about breast cancer and menopause treatments such as HRT on some types of cancer. Cancer Research UK carried out a survey on one million women which not only looked at how HRT can increase the risk of breast cancer but also the effect of drinking at this time of women’s lives.
The same Million Women study showed that alcohol can affect hormones such as oestrogen – increasing breast cancer risk by raising levels of this hormone. So even light drinking (one drink a day) can increase your risk.
But it’s important to remember that the increased cancer risk with HRT is small compared to many other risk factors, like smoking or being overweight, as shown below. HRT is only responsible for a very small proportion of cancer cases.
Every year, alcohol causes 4% of cancers in the UK, around 12,800 cases. Not everyone who drinks alcohol will develop cancer. But on the whole, scientists have found that some cancers are more common in people who drink more alcohol than others. There’s no ‘safe’ limit for alcohol when it comes to cancer, but the risk is smaller for people who drink within the government guidelines.
Osteoporosis and alcohol
Women are more likely to get osteoporosis than men. One of the reasons is that oestrogen, the hormone that protects our bones, decreases sharply when we reach menopause, causing bone loss. The chances of developing osteoporosis therefore also increase as women reach menopause.
If you have healthy bones by the time the menopause hits that certainly helps – but there is evidence that heavy alcohol use, especially during adolescence and young adult years, can dramatically affect bone health and increase the risk of osteoporosis.
The rate at which you lose bone mass after you reach menopause is also an important factor, and in part why HRT is prescribed. A woman can lose up to 20% of her bone density during the five to seven years following menopause. The NHS recommend quitting smoking and reducing drinking to counter this.
So, you want to cut down or stop but often peer pressure – just have one, don’t be boring – stops us acting positively. But there are so many good alternatives on the market now – you can drink without it being boring and stuck with a coke in the corner.
What alternatives are out there?
If you feel you want to moderate your alcoholic consumption there are plenty of exciting alternatives on the market, in the supermarket and in many restaurants, bars and pubs. Always ask as you may be quite surprised what is available. Below is a round of the teams favourites which we recommend to women on our programme who are looking for alternatives.
There's no mocking the following mocktails for being ho-hum. Fresh fruits, herbs and ice can take you from the mundane to the extraordinary in few easy steps. Here are some of my favourite recipes below:
- 200ml pomegranate juice
- 2 tsp Montmorency cherry concentrate
- Ice cubes
- 3 good dashes of Angostura bitters
- A twist of orange peel
Pour the pomegranate juice and cherry concentrate into a tumbler of ice, then stir well before shaking in the Angostura bitters. The drink should have a bittersweet tang, so add more Angostura if needed.
Twist the orange peel on top of the drink to release the oils.
The cherry concentrate gives an extra layer but isn’t essential. However, I recommend keeping the cherry concentrate in the fridge as a sugar-free cordial. It’s also delicious with hot water.
- 40ml soda water
- 6 mint leaves
- 2 wedges of lime
- 30ml apple juice
- 20ml lime juice
- 15ml elderflower cordial
- 40ml soda water
- 1 sprint of mint
Press down with a muddler on the 6 leaves in the bottom of a tall glass to extract juices and flavours
Add apple juice, lime juice and elderflower cordial to the glass.
Add crushed ice and stir
Top up with soda water
Garnish with a sprig of mint
- Grape juice (white or red)
- Sparkling water
- Cranberry juice or orange juice
- Chopped fruit (grapes, oranges, tangerines, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries)
- Fresh citrus slices, to garnish
Add all the ingredients together to taste.
Serve over Ice
Add citrus slices
FitBeer is an alcohol-free artisan lager which is brewed in Bavaria to the highest quality, and a proud winner of the Great Taste Award. All the ingredients are 100% natural. It's even isotonic so you can drink after a workout, perfect after a long brisk walk.
Thomson and Scott have produced Noughty which is a zero alcohol “prosecco”. It’s delicious and you wouldn’t know the difference.
Gin & Tonic
If you fancy a gin & tonic Bitter Union - Lemon, Hops & Herbs provides the perfect alcohol-free version for you. Just add 4-5 drops to tonic water, crushed ice and a twist of lemon or lime. Refreshingly delicious!
Scavi and Ray offers a terrific alcohol-free prosecco. I defy anyone to be able to tell the difference. Eisberg has a whole range of alcohol-free wines from Cabernet to Chardonnay and everything in between.
Fever Tree Tonics
Fever Tree have pre-flavoured tonics include Elderflower and Aromatic and a great smokey ginger ale, all of which are great to drink on their own and available in most pubs.
I know many women turn to alcohol at menopause to cope with stress and anxiety, to help them sleep, to feel better however, it’s important for menopausal women to moderate alcoholic consumption for all sorts of reasons to minimise their symptoms but also for preventative health reasons as well.
Having a healthy balanced diet at menopause is super important as it helps you get through this natural stage of life, but also sets you for the future.
Get your mojo back on track.
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