Alcohol & Hormone Balance
I think most of us would agree that lockdown has resulted in increased alcohol consumption. As we enter the festive season, I wanted to provide a little reminder as to why we should be mindful of how much alcohol we are consuming with regards to Hormone Balance as well as fertility (female & male). Binge drinking in particular should certainly be avoided.
Alcohol can increase circulating oestrogen levels in the body, which we really want to ensure are kept in check. Several studies have highlighted that this is the result of impaired detoxification of oestrogen. Our hormones very much need to be kept in fine balance, however this excess oestrogen causes low FSH and progesterone secretion. As a result of low progesterone, women can experience anovulation (no ovulation), irregular periods, spotting, infertility and low progesterone is associated with miscarriage. In addition, our liver can become burdened, having to process the alcohol instead of hormones and other substances. This can cause ageing, increase the toxic burden within the body & may result in liver cirrhosis. For longevity alone, we want to ensure that we supporting our liver function with sufficient fluids and foods that support the detoxification process.
Blood Sugar Imbalances
Alcohol contains sugar and so the impact on our body is similar to consumption of refined sugars. Blood sugar levels rise, causing the secretion of insulin, which helps push the blood glucose into our cells to get it out of the blood stream. However, too much sugar in the blood through diet and regular alcohol consumption, can cause the cells to become resistant to insulin, which will eventually present as type II diabetes. In conditions such as PCOS, which is already associated with blood sugar imbalances, we really need to be mindful of sugar and alcohol consumption. One hormone known as Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG), binds to sex hormones, removing them from direct circulation in the body. However, elevated insulin levels as a result of increased alcohol consumption, actually reduces SHBG, meaning more circulating sex hormones in the body. Again, this has a direct impact on hormone balance.
We all understand why women need to stop drinking when pregnant, however, alcohol has an impact on fertility, even before conception. Heavy alcohol consumption diminishes ovarian reserve and function, which is often measured via an AMH test. One study found that women who regularly binge drink two or more times a week had a 26% lower AMH level than current drinkers who do not binge. A Danish study found that, compared with women who drank no alcohol, women who reported consuming 1–5 drinks per week, in addition to those who consumed more than 10 drinks per week, had a decreased chance of achieving pregnancy. Therefore, women who are already seeking treatment for infertility should be encouraged to minimise alcohol consumption, as even moderate levels could negatively impact their ability to conceive. With regards to men, alcohol consumption can also cause difficulties with fertility. Some studies on long-term, heavy alcohol use have reported reduced hormone release including decreased testosterone and sperm production. Therefore, men who drink heavily should be advised to decrease their alcohol intake.