Are Your Cheers & Beers a Stumbling Block to Results?

For every career woman, it’s all we want after a stressful day at the office. For every overwhelmed mother, it’s all you can think about after another day cooped up with kids in the house. Regardless, we all need to unwind and nothing sounds better than some ‘self-care’ involving a relaxing bath and a glass (ahem…bottle) of wine. And you know this pandemic won’t stop us from our weekly (virtual) girl’s night that inevitably leads to one too many martinis. Everything in moderation, right? Or not?

Our lives are in no short supply of stressors and many of us are turning to alcohol now more than ever to ease life’s burdens, even temporarily, with a cocktail.Alcohol distributors reported a 55% increase in alcohol sales from March 2019 to March 2020.

Have you ever wondered what impact (if any) alcohol has on your hormones? And just how much is too much? Is any amount “safe”? What is alcohol doing inside our bodies? And what does moderate consumption even mean? Here’s what you to know about the health risks and benefits of alcohol — and how to find a healthy relationship with alcohol if you’re going to drink.


Just like every great vice in life – it can be very easy to overlook true alcohol intake. It’s easy to lose track of how many beers you’ve downed at your friend’s pool party, and if we’re being honest, when was the last time you actually measured out your heavy-handed pour when enjoying your nightly ‘glass’ of Pinot? You may track one serving in MyFitness Pal, but it is likely two servings (or more) of unaccounted calories. Obviously, certain alcoholic beverages vary in their alcohol content. but to keep it simple, a serving of alcohol is:

  • A 12-ounce bottle of beer
  • A 4-ounce glass of wine
  • 1.5-ounce of spirits

Researchers typically categorize people into four groups: abstainers, moderate drinkers, heavy drinkers, or binge drinkers. Being honest, find where you would fall in your daily or weekly alcohol consumption.

Moderate DrinkerWomen: Up to 1 drink per day or 7 total in a week
Men: Up to 2 drinks per day or 14 total in a week
Heavy DrinkerWomen: 8 or more drinks per week
Men: 15 or more drinks per week
Binge DrinkerWomen: 4 or more drinks in an single occasion
Men: 5 or more drinks in a single occasion


When alcohol is consumed, it is absorbed into the blood from the stomach and intestines. Two liver enzymes, alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), begin to break apart the alcohol molecule so it can eventually be eliminated from the body. Women absorb and metabolize alcohol differently from men, as you may have observed first hand if you’ve ever tried to ‘keep up’ drink for drink and lost terribly. There are three reasons for this difference in alcohol tolerance:

  1. Women have lower levels of alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). ADH is an enzyme in our liver and stomach that breaks down alcohol. With less of the enzyme available, women end up with greater amounts of alcohol in the blood when consuming an equal amount as men. The difference in ADH levels is the most significant cause of the variance in alcohol tolerance.
  2. Men tend to have more body water. Body water helps disperse alcohol, diluting its effects.
  3. Men tend to weigh more. With greater body weight, there is more tissue to absorb the alcohol.

The size of the liver and body mass of the drinker are factors in how much alcohol a person can metabolize in an hour, but research tells us that the genetic makeup of the individual is probably the most significant factor in how efficiently alcohol is broken down and eliminated. Some people have ADH and ALDH enzymes that work less efficiently than others, which causes a build-up of acetaldehyde and unpleasant side effects like facial flushing, nausea, and a rapid heart rate. These effects can occur with even moderate alcohol consumption.


The body’s hormones work together in a finely coordinated and complex system to keep us healthy and functioning. Alcohol can impair the functions of the glands that release hormones and the functions of the tissues targeted by the hormones, which can result in problems balancing blood sugar, controlling estrogen production, and even impact our stress hormones. All of which have profound impacts on our energy, sleep, weight, and quality of life.

Alcohol & Body Composition. We’ve all heard of the ‘freshmen 15’ or the ‘quarantine 15’ and maybe experienced it ourselves. Pure alcohol is a macronutrient category all in it’s own contributing 7 calories per gram – that doesn’t even factor in combined mixers! Along with it’s additional caloric load, drinking decreases inhibitions, stimulates ghrelin (the hormone that makes you feel hungry), and suppresses leptin (the hormone that tells you you’re full). Alcohol also disrupts the body’s ability to maintain ideal blood sugar levels, and can cause hypoglycemia or low blood sugar – which also makes you crave carbohydrates like drive-thru tacos and french fries. Just like that, the positive results you get from eating well Monday through Friday can get wiped out by the poor food choices made over the weekend while drinking.

Alcohol & Sex Hormones. If you’ve ever felt like you can’t party like you did in your 20’s without a three day hangover, you’re not imagining things. As we age, hormones fluctuate; therefore, less alcohol is needed to have larger hormonal effects over time. For a woman in her 40s or 50s, even “moderate” amounts of alcohol can affect the hormonal system. Drinking alcohol can cause a rise in estrogen and a decrease in progesterone in premenopausal women – this means more moodiness, fat storage, hot flashes, and PMS symptoms. According to a study by the Testosterone Centers of Texas, “alcohol is the enemy of testosterone.” It’s well-known as the hormone for sex drive and libido, but it is a key player in muscle formation, bone mass, fat distribution, and brain health. Low testosterone (caused by alcohol or something else) in both men and women can result in brain fog, fatigue, irritability, lower muscle mass, and lower motivation.

Alcohol & Immune Health. Although we may think of alcohol for it’s germ-fighting, antibiotic benefits, a drink a day does not keep the doctor away. Alcohol consumption has been shown to decrease the number of white blood cells and impair the ability of our immune cells to fight off injury & infection. It would be like cutting the number of soldiers in a battle in half even though all of the soldiers are needed to win. Drinking can also deplete levels of key micronutrients like zinc & glutathione that are imperative for slowing viral spreading. Aside from these two micronutrients, vitamins C, D, E, and K, the B vitamins, and calcium, and iron can also decline in heavy drinkers and alcoholics. Fortunately, after 30 days of abstinence from alcohol (and with proper diet), immune-cell function can return to normal.


When it comes down to it, it’s hard to suggest alcohol as part of a healthy nutrition plan — even if that alcohol comes from red wine for it’s ‘antioxidants.’ For many (women especially), regular alcohol consumption compromises menstrual cycles, recovery, sleep, fat metabolism, and leads to increased blood sugar and inflammation.

If you are going to partake in some adult beverages, or are looking for easy ways to cut back, here are some simple tips:

  1. Create boundaries: If you are currently having 1-2 drinks per day (about 7-10 per week), aim to cut that in half. Allow yourself 2 drinks on Friday for happy hour with friends, and another two on Saturday for date night. Save alcohol for social occasions and test out having drink-free days for yourself and see what positive results you notice. 
  2. Explore alternative ways for stress management. Some people drink alcohol to relax, but in reality alcohol can make you feel even more stressed out and disrupt your sleep. Consider some alternative stress-busters, like hitting the gym, talking a walk, having a hot bath, or reading a book.
  3. Make simple swaps for healthier options: There are many tasty lower calorie / lower sugar options on the liquor store shelves these days! Try out a spiked seltzer, or enjoy a single cocktail with sparkling water and lime wedge instead of soda. Try having a spritzer with a small (125ml) measure of wine topped up with soda, instead of a large glass of wine. Alternate a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage consumed. You can even skip the alcohol and make a mocktail with fresh fruit and club soda – only you will know the difference!

It’s a matter of truly understanding where and why alcohol is inserting itself into your lifestyle as everyone’s definition of moderation will be different. If you are consuming 1-2 drinks per week in a weekend social setting as a means of easing stress, enjoying the company of friends, and you have the control to stop, then alcohol is likely not going to be a ‘deal-breaker’ for you to look and feel your best self. Although if you find you need to drink to be happy, or are using it as a daily crutch for stress relief, it may time to reflect on making some small, positive changes to regain your physical & mental health.

❤ Lo

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