For many people, the holiday season is synonymous with parties, family gatherings, nights out with coworkers and get-togethers with friends you might not have seen for a while.
And if there's one thing they all have in common, it's alcohol. It's in our culture—for many people, celebrating without at least a little booze isn't quite the same. The problem is that, for women going through perimenopause or menopause, alcohol can be an issue.
Can alcohol affect perimenopause symptoms?
Definitely. Too much alcohol can trigger hot flashes, induce poor sleep and affect your mood. It can also strip you of nutrients, especially things like calcium and magnesium, which you need a lot of during perimenopause and menopause.
Alcohol can affect your joints and increase joint pain, which is already horrible at the best of times. And alcohol will dehydrate you. Those of you who've been following me for while will know that dehydration plays a big part in the many perimenopause (and menopause) symptoms you can experience. In other words, you really need to avoid getting dehydrated.
A lot of women going through perimenopause and menopause tell me that they can't drink as much as they used to without suffering the consequences. Some women find that it makes them really ill so they have to give it up altogether, while others find themselves getting tipsy or even drunk faster than before. You might also find that alcohol gives you a bigger hangover and that it takes longer to recover the next day.
How much can you drink during perimenopause?
How much is too much? Very often, we have no idea. You go to a restaurant or meet a friend at a bar and someone puts a glass put in front of you, and you can't tell if it's one drink or two—you probably don't even think about it.
Canada's Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines recommend no more than 10 drinks a week for women, and no more than two drinks a day most days. But what is "a drink"?
What's a standard drink?
A standard drink (or unit of alcohol) is:
- Beer/cider/cooler – 341 ml (12 oz.), 5% alcohol content
- Wine – 142 ml (5 oz.), 12% alcohol content
- Distilled alcohol (whiskey, rye, gin, rum, etc.) – 43 ml (1.5 oz.), 40% alcohol content
For example, a medium or large glass of wine can constitute two or more units of alcohol. In other words, a standard drink is probably a lot smaller than you thought, so you might end up having too much alcohol without even realizing it.
How to drink better during perimenopause and menopause
Can you really drink better? Yes, you can.
Drink in moderation
Know your limit. Ironically, the more you drink, the weaker your resolve and willpower, which in turn will have you saying yes to more drinks.
If you're going out with a group, maybe you can all agree to keep an eye on each other to make sure no one drinks more than they really should. There's strength in numbers, so it just might work.
Don't binge drink: spread out your 10 units throughout the week
If you have four units of alcohol within the space of two hours—this can be something as seemingly harmless as two medium-sized glasses of wine—you're binge drinking!
Spread your alcohol out. For instance, have one glass of alcohol and then follow it up with a fruit juice spritzer. Not only will you be pacing yourself better, but you'll also be having some water to help prevent dehydration.
Have alcohol-free days
If you can, designate some days during the holidays as "dry days" when you don't have alcohol. It can be hard sometimes, especially if you're one of the lucky ones with a full schedule of social gatherings over the month, but it's worth doing.
The purer the alcohol, the better
Keep things pure if you can. A lot of symptoms you experience are due to chemicals rather than the alcohol itself. So, for instance, if you're drinking wine, go for higher quality or organic wine: you might find that you experience fewer negative side-effects than if you had the cheaper stuff.
Watch your mixers
What I mentioned above about chemicals applies across the board. If you're drinking cocktails, be wary of mixers. Mixers are ready-made, non-alcoholic mixes used in things like cocktails. They tend to be a combination of sugar, artificial sweeteners and flavourings, a particular combination of ingredients that can trigger symptoms such as hot flashes and heart palpitations, not to mention a nasty headache the next morning. So, go easy on them and choose more natural ones if you can.
Consider alcohol-free alternatives
Look for alcohol-free drinks. The problem here is that a lot of them contain sugar, so do your homework first: there's no point in cutting out the alcohol and then spending an evening drinking really sugary drinks, as that can end up causing a whole raft of symptoms much like those you'd get from drinking alcohol.
Drink plenty of water
Remember, chasing every glass of alcohol with a glass of water can certainly go a long way to reducing dehydration and the unpleasant side-effects of drinking alcohol.
Don't drink on an empty stomach
Eat first, then drink. This is a really important piece of advice, especially before you go out. When you go to a party, especially if you're going straight from work, by the time you get there, you're absolutely starving, so you're probably going to overeat. But if you haven't eaten yet and someone hands you a drink the moment you get to the party, that drink is going to hit you like a ton of bricks. So whether you're going there straight from work or starting from home, something as simple as a small cup of yogurt is really worth having just before you head out.
Don't drink just before bedtime
While a nightcap might help you doze off, it can also put you into a very deep sleep.
This may sound like a good thing, but it's not. You don't get your REM sleep, which means that you're going to wake up not properly rested, and your poor liver will get really stressed, to the point that it'll wake you up somewhere between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m.
Support your liver
Consider herbal preparations such as Digestive Aid Complex to help to support your liver. A daily dose all through the holiday season can give your liver some useful support.
So while there are definite down sides of drinking alcohol during the holidays, you don't have to avoid it completely. We know that perimenopause can be miserable at times, so it's nice to be able live it up a bit and have a few drinks—it's one of life's little pleasures.
Just keep these tips in mind. Try not to drink too much, and take the time to really savour what you drink. Be aware that, because of all the things that alcohol can do, your perimenopause or menopause symptoms over the next couple of days might be worse or trigger others you thought you had under control.
Sure, there's a little price to pay for drinking, but by all means, enjoy yourself anyway!