Australia has a strong drinking culture, with alcohol playing a large part in our regular rituals and celebrations. Whether you’re relaxing over a meal, having Friday night drinks, going out with the girls… there’s rarely a social engagement where alcohol isn’t consumed – often with great enthusiasm!
However, drinking is linked with multiple health risks, especially for women. At Northside Gynaecology, we aim to build awareness about the potential damage each drink does to your body.
In this article we’ll explore the impact of alcohol on women’s health. You might decide it’s time to put down that wine glass for good.
Alcohol affects women differently than men
Women are more vulnerable to the toxic effects of alcohol – even in small amounts. This is because women absorb and metabolise alcohol at a different rate than men of similar body weight. One standard drink has twice the effect on a woman than a man.
Biological reasons for this include:
- Body fat – Women typically weigh less than men. However, they tend to have more fatty tissue, and contain less water in their bodies than their male counterparts. This means that alcohol remains at higher concentrates in a woman’s body for longer, as she has more fat to retain alcohol and less water to dilute it. The longer alcohol stays in the body, the longer the brain and other organs are exposed to it.
- Hormones – Women metabolise alcohol differently to men due to the changes in hormonal levels during the reproductive cycle.
- Enzymes – The stomach and liver contain two enzymes needed to break down alcohol: dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase. Women have less of these enzymes in their stomach and liver, so they tend to absorb more alcohol into their bloodstream than men do.
These factors explain why women become intoxicated after drinking less than men. Women also tend to develop alcohol-related diseases sooner than men – it doesn’t need to take long before regular and/or heavy drinkers see health problems begin to emerge.
The body’s ability to break down alcohol also decreases with age. This means that older women will experience more negative effects from drinking the same amount of alcohol they did when they were younger.
Common alcohol related health risks
Drinking too much alcohol puts a woman’s health at risk in a variety of ways:
- Cancer – Alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer, as well as cancer of the mouth, throat, liver, neck, colon, and oesophagus.
- Liver disease – Studies have shown women are more likely than men to develop alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver.
- Brain damage – Alcohol kills brain cells. Excessive drinking may result in memory loss and even brain shrinkage. Damage begins to appear within shorter periods of drinking in women than men.
- Depression – Alcohol is a depressant. Its consumption can contribute to depression, and also prolong it. Drinking to mask the symptoms of depression also often creates a vicious cycle that keeps sufferers in a disempowered state.
- Sleeping problems – It can be tempting to have a drink or two to help relax and become sleepy at the end of the day. However, alcohol negatively affects the quality of your sleep by reducing rapid eye movement (REM) cycles, which are important for proper rest and rehabilitation.
- Heart damage – Drinking excessive amounts can weaken the heart muscle and impact its ability to pump blood effectively.
- Stroke – Heavy alcohol consumption increases the risk of stroke, with women more susceptible than men of suffering a cerebral haemorrhage.
Alcohol and infertility
Alcohol affects reproductive hormones in both men and women. Drinking excessively can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle and ovulation, making conceiving and successfully carrying a baby more difficult.
This disruption of a woman’s hormonal balance can lead to menstrual irregularities including cycles where ovulation doesn’t occur (Anovulatory cycles), increased menstrual pain, and spotting particularly after a heavy drinking session.
Drinking excessively increases the likelihood of infertility – the more you drink, the greater your hormonal disruptions become. However, the negative effects of alcohol on fertility can be reversible if you stop drinking.
What is a safe level of alcohol?
The amount a woman can safely drink depends on a number of factors including her height and weight, her genetic makeup and family history, and her age. Many experts believe that drinking even just one alcoholic drink each day increases the risk of health problems.
The current Australian guidelines of low risk drinking for women include:
- No more than two standard drinks (20 grams of alcohol) on any day.
- No more than four standard drinks (40 grams of alcohol) on a single occasion.
For women who are pregnant, no amount of alcohol is deemed safe. Additionally, women who are trying to get pregnant, or are breastfeeding, are advised to abstain from alcohol altogether.
What to do next
Find out more about how Northside Gynaecology can assist with alcohol related conditions. Visit us at https://www.northsidegynaecology.com.au/contact, or call us on 07 3088 9005 to book an appointment at one of our convenient Brisbane locations – Kedron, North Lakes, or Caboolture.