Alcohol, Women, and Heart Disease

Today I'm continuing a series of posts (this is the second) about women, menopause, and heart disease. Most of my facts, statistics, and ideas have been inspired (read: stolen) from Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life by Dr. Claudia Welch. If you are a woman with hormonal issues due to thyroid problems, menopause, or any other factors, this book is worth a read. Packed with information backed up by numerous studies, you will discover both ancient (Ayurvedic and Chinese) and modern-day (Western) wisdom.

As far as drinking alcohol is concerned, we would all love to hear that it is healthy for us. Any study that shows drinking might lengthen the lifespan or prevent disease is met with cheering and applause. Yes, we WANT to believe this! And isn't red wine absolutely LOADED with resveratrol? A wonderful, magical antioxidant? Well...yes and no.

Most doctors (including Dr. Andrew Weil) agree that if you are going to drink alcohol, red wine is probably about the healthiest choice. However, these same doctors will tell you, if you don't currently drink any alcohol, picking up the habit in order to benefit your health is NOT a good idea. And in a 2006 Danish study involving 27,000 men and 30,000 women, it was determined that while one drink per day might be reduce the chances of heart disease FOR MEN, for women it appeared that one drink PER WEEK was a healthier amount. (Please don't shoot the messenger!)

Regular consumption of alcohol "has been demonstrated to play a role in causing many types of cancer, including larynx, esophagus, liver, breast, and colorectal cancers." (p. 139) We all know that alcohol is perceived by the body as a toxin and must be processed through the liver, like any other toxic substance we ingest. However, for women who are going through menopause and have excess estrogen circulating through the blood stream, the liver is already working overtime to eliminate this excess from our bodies. An overworked or sluggish liver, the result of processing alcohol on a regular basis, can mean less efficient removal of estrogen. Excess estrogen circulating through the blood stream is the result, which in turn can be responsible for increased risk of breast cancer, as well as many other undesirable symptoms. Alcohol is also high in sugars, contributing to silent inflammation, weight gain, and increasing a woman's risk of diabetes.

Women (and men, of course, but this post is about women) often turn to alcohol to relieve stress. And stress is a major factor in heart disease, as was mentioned yesterday in our discussion of silent inflammation. So if alcohol relieves stress, isn't that a positive thing? Um, sorry, but the answer again is no. Because alcohol does not relieve stress. In fact, drinking alcohol stresses your organs in addition to the emotional and psychological stress you are already under. Consuming alcohol undermines your overall health in other ways as well, most notably by disturbing the sleep cycle. Excellent quality sleep is paramount for maintaining good health and anything which compromises your sleep will also compromise your immune system. This leaves you susceptible to all kinds of illness.

Bottom line? For women looking to increase their health and decrease their chances of heart disease as well as breast cancer (and many other cancers) stick with one drink per week instead of one per day. In addition, follow the guidelines for an anti-inflammatory diet and get plenty (8 hours per night) of high quality sleep. Find alternatives to drinking alcohol which really do reduce stress, such as meditation, yoga, walking, reading uplifting books, and laughing. Practice having fun with friends without drinking. I know this might seem strange and uncomfortable at first, but soon it will become normal. And your body will thank you.