For many of us, the holiday season is often accompanied by an increased amount of socialising, company Christmas parties and a multitude of alcoholic beverages. Between Christmas, New Year’s Eve, work gatherings and family dinners, it can be easy to overboard with your alcohol intake.
However, overindulging comes with a large price on your health. I’m not just talking about excess calories, but rather the effect on your hormones and metabolism. From putting your liver through more work, causing more intense PMS bouts, weight gain to throwing your hormones off balance, consuming alcohol is more detrimental to your health than you think. Not only is your liver’s health affected, frequent alcohol intake can cause elevated estrogen (sex hormone) levels in the blood, which is linked to increasing your risk of developing dangerous health conditions such as breast cancer. Let’s take a closer look at exactly how alcohol affects your hormones.
The liver is an essential organ for hormone metabolism. Not only does the liver act as a key hormone regulator, it is also involved in metabolising excess hormones to be removed from the body. As alcohol is a toxic substance that requires primary elimination by the liver, therefore regular consumption can impact the metabolism of hormones, such as estrogen, an important sex hormone. The estrogen hormones’ play an essential role in reproduction, promoting new bone growth, and supporting cardiovascular health.
Since estrogen is naturally produced by the body (the ovaries, adrenal glands, and fat tissues) it is going to be less of a priority to eliminate than alcohol.
When the estrogen and progesterone hormones are in balance, the female body is at its optimum state. However, the problems arise, when there is too much of one type of estrogen compared to other types of estrogen in your system. If your liver isn’t doing a very good job at metabolising estrogen, – because it is too ‘busy’ eliminating harmful substances like alcohol, – then estrogen levels can become chronically elevated in the blood, which can lead to uncomfortable hormonal symptoms. These can include:
- Decreased sex drive
- Irregular periods
- Excess fat storage and cellulite around the thighs and buttocks (that is hard to shift)
- Bloating & water retention
- Breast swelling and tenderness
- Fibrocystic breasts
- Interference with thyroid hormone production
- PMS headaches
- Mood swings (most often irritability and depression)
Excess estrogen can also lead to dangerous health conditions, such as breast cancer, endometrial cancer, and osteoporosis.
In order to ensure that your body is able to regulate estrogen and other sex hormones naturally, it is extremely important to maintain a healthy liver. The strategies for this include:
- Avoiding or minimising alcohol consumption
- Reducing refined sugar (especially fructose) consumption
- Avoiding the usage of endocrine disrupting chemicals in skincare and personal care products
- Eliminating or reduce caffeine intake
- Minimise the consumption of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides that are used to treat conventionally produced foods (eat more organic food)
- Eliminating trans fats
- Avoiding the consumption of processed soy products (soymilk, tofu, soy proteins)
- Consume liver supporting herbs and foods (beetroot, leafy green vegetables, broccoli & sprouts, wheatgrass, barley grass, turmeric, dandelion, chicory root and St. Mary’s (milk) thistle)
St Mary’s Thistle is an extremely potent herb can be purchased in a capsule form or brewed as a cup of tea, and it is known to support the liver, particularly defending it from the long-term alcohol damage. Due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, this herb can be incorporated into your diet to prevent the detrimental effects of frequent alcohol consumption, and help regenerate liver cells.
One of the most important and impactful things that you can do for your liver health is to eliminate or significantly reduce your alcohol intake. This is to avoid hormonal imbalance too.
Most people don’t realise how much they drink. In Australia, a standard drink is any drink containing 10 grams of alcohol, regardless of container size or alcohol type (e.g beer, wine, spirit).
One standard drink is equivalent to approximately:
- 285 mL of full strength beer (4.8% alc. vol)
- 375mL of mid-strength beer (3.5% alc.vol)
- 425 mL of low strength beer (2.7% alc. vol)
- 100 mL of wine (red – 13% alc. vol, and white – 11.5% alc. vol)
- 100 mL of champagne (12% alc. vol) 3
- 30 mL of spirits (40% alc. vol)
- 275 mL bottle of ready-to-drink beverage (5% alcohol content)
Next time you pour yourself a glass of wine, take a look at exactly how much you naturally pour compared to one standard drink.
Although heart organisations suggest that two standard drinks per day is acceptable, according to Dr. Libby Weaver nutritional biochemist, if you have a history of breast cancer in your family, there is no safe levels of alcohol consumption.
If quitting drinking isn’t possible for you, then it is extremely important to adhere to low-moderate consumption, exceeding no more than 5 standard drinks per week.
This holiday, try to be sensible with your alcohol intake and choose your alcohol wisely.
Which drink should I choose?
Alcoholic beverages vary significantly in calories and sugar. Here are some examples to show you how many empty calories you are having in just 100mls of alcohol:
- Beer: 70 cals
- Cider: 82 cals
- Prosecco/champagne: 100 cals
- Bombay Sapphire Gin: 236 cals
- Bacardi Rum: 232 cals
- Jack Daniels: 256 cals
- Vermouth: 151 cals
Not only are some alcoholic drinks naturally calorie-dense, cocktails are often laden with sugar and even more calories, due to adding mixers and syrups.
Here are some shocking caloric levels that you can gulp down in a single cocktail:
- Long Island Ice Tea: up to 780 calories
- Pina Colada: up to 644 calories
- Margarita: up to 740 calories
- Mai Tai: up to 620 calories
By consuming just 2-3 cocktails, you can take in all the recommended calories you should consume for the entire day! Not only will this impact your waistline in the long-run, as mentioned above the health effects associated are even more dangerous.
Instead of consuming calorie-dense beverages, opt for the following:
- Gin Soda with Lime: Instead of opting for tonic (which has up to 83 calories mostly from sugar per 100 ml), cut down the calories by mixing gin with soda lime and cucumber, with only a splash of tonic.
- Clear Spirits: Spirits mixed with soda are relatively low in calories. Add a slice of fresh fruit for flavour or mix with kombucha, which contains probiotics that can add some beneficial bacteria to your gut.
- Bloody Mary is relatively low in calories and sugar.
- Organic Red Wine: Although red wine may be slightly higher in calories than white, there may be associated benefits from drinking one glass every now and then, due to high antioxidant content.
- Opt for or include more non-alcoholic beverages
Spare your liver the extra work, and include more non-alcoholic beverages during your social gatherings. For example, consuming fruit-infused water, sparkling water with lime, or kombucha tea are all hydrating and beneficial to health.
Avoid a hangover
Although you may be aware of the health effects due to over consuming alcohol, we all have special occasions where things may slip up, and that wine bottle empties quicker than expected. It’s only the next day when you wake up feeling sluggish and fatigued that you begin to regret overindulging the night before.
To avoid this happening try these anti-hangover tips:
- For every alcoholic drink you consume, drink a glass of water with a squeeze of lemon juice. This will help flush out the alcohol, hydrate and alkalise the body.
- Don’t mix drinks. If you started drinking wine, do not have a gin and tonic for your next drink. Mixing drinks can increase your chances of a hangover the next day.
- Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Food helps slow the absorption of alcohol so make sure you have a full meal, at least a snack beforehand.
- Only drink the amount that you know you are capable of handling. Everyone’s tolerance for alcohol is different.
- Spare your metabolism. Alcohol slows down your metabolism for up to 72 hours after drinking. If you have a drink every 2-3 days your body never fully recovers. Try to limit your consumption to once per week, and make that occasion a special one.
Regardless of why you choose to consume alcohol, it is important to be aware of the dangers of the consumption, and its link to hormonal imbalance in the body. By limiting the frequency and the amount you consume, you can take the extra load off your precious liver, keep inflammation at bay, and support your body’s natural hormone production and a healthy body weight.
Want more tips for the holiday season? Check out Your Bulletproff Holiday Weight Gain Prevention Guide.