Alcohol affects the human body in many ways. The impact it has on our hormone levels can, over time, lead to significant health and wellbeing problems.
Alcohol can have many negative effects on the body, including impacting our hormone levels. Hormones play a very important role in keeping our mind and body functioning optimally, serving as the body’s messengers.
Consuming too much alcohol can result in interruptions to the endocrine system, which together with the nervous system, is responsible for controlling the flow of information between the different organs and cells. The body’s hormones – produced and released by the endocrine system – regulate metabolism, energy levels, reproduction, stress management, electrolyte balance and growth and development. Alcohol can interfere with the operation of this system, which can over time lead to a significant impact on our overall health and wellbeing.
According to clinical studies, what should be classified as moderate alcohol consumption can vary with life stages. As we face common health conditions associated with ageing, our bodies take longer to process alcohol and we become less tolerant to alcohol intake. Hormones also fluctuate; therefore, less alcohol is needed to have larger hormonal effects over time.
Hormones affected by alcohol include:
- Cortisol, the stress hormone
- Dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, the feel-good hormones
- Estrogen and testosterone, the sex hormones
- Insulin and glucagon, the blood glucose hormones
- Growth hormone (GH) and thyroxine, the bone growth hormones
Let’s take a closer look at how alcohol consumption can interfere with the body’s hormones.
Increase in cortisol levels
According to research, heavy drinking can increase the body’s production of the stress hormone cortisol – your natural “fight or flight” response. The impact of chronically high cortisol levels can lead to a range of health concerns in both the short and long term. This could be anything from an increase in blood pressure to adversely affecting bone growth, digestion and reproduction. Too much cortisol can also cause fatigue, sleep disruption, anxiety and depression.
Changes to moods
Alcohol is a psychoactive substance that can change the way we feel, affecting our moods and behaviours. Dopamine (one of the happy hormones) levels rise with drinking alcohol, resulting in an increase in pleasure and the likelihood of wanting to drink more. However, after certain levels of alcohol consumption are reached in the body, the ‘dopamine high’ is often replaced with the ‘low’, such as a hangover.
Serotonin, a chemical in the body responsible for learning, memory and feelings of joy and wellbeing, plays an important role in regulating your mood. It also helps keep your sleep cycle and other processes in the body functioning well. While consuming alcohol can temporarily boost serotonin levels (making you feel happier), in the long term, excess drinking can have the opposite effect, lowering levels, which may exacerbate feelings of depression.
Along with serotonin and dopamine, the hormone oxytocin completes the trio of feel-good chemicals. When consuming too much alcohol, oxytocin released in the body is inhibited.
Reproductive health impacts
Alcohol has an impact on both male and female sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone) and can affect reproductive function and health. In particular, excessive alcohol consumption for men can lead to decreased testosterone levels and libido, and sexual dysfunction.
For women, excess drinking has multiple health risks including increases in estrogen and other related hormones, reduced fertility and irregular menstrual cycles. Researchers found when compared to women who drink less than 3 glasses of alcohol per day, close to 50 per cent of all social drinkers and around 60 per cent classified as heavier drinkers, faced significant disturbances to both reproductive hormones and menstrual cycles.
Blood sugar (glucose) imbalances
Alcohol can also interrupt the hormones (insulin and glucagon) responsible for regulating glucose levels, which keeps our blood sugar healthy. Research has shown that excessive drinking over a long period can cause glucose intolerance or lead to hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) and hyperglycemic (high blood sugar) episodes. Drinking on an empty stomach can trigger blood sugar levels to drop resulting in feelings of dizziness, confusion, shaking and weakness; this can be especially problematic for diabetics.
Another common and well-known side effect of excess drinking is fatigue. With alcohol acting as a disruptor to the endocrine system, the body’s ability to produce, utilise and store energy decreases. As the body struggles to release the right levels of hormones, you may experience tiredness and a general lack of energy.
Affecting bone health
The body’s calcium regulating hormones are essential for bone strength, growth and density. This can be impacted by excess alcohol known to interfere with calcium levels in the body. Reduction of calcium levels can lead to a greater risk of developing various bone health deficiencies, such as osteoporosis.
Vitamin D, which is necessary for calcium absorption, is also affected by drinking. Ultimately, a reduction in bone mass and interference with bone growth can lead to breaks and fractures.
There are many health benefits to not consuming alcohol. So, whether you’re thinking of cutting back, switching to alcohol-removed alternatives such as Edenvale or giving up drinking altogether, your body (and hormones) will thank you for it.
Edenvale wines provide a sophisticated alternative for those who are choosing not to drink. Learn more about the range here.