Dry February: Alcohol and Your Hormones
Anyone who’s ever had a few too many drinks can attest that alcohol affects your body (isn’t that the understatement of the year?!) Whether it’s a complete distortion of reality, a stumble on your walk home or a raging hangover the next day, alcohol can sometimes make you regret every choice you’ve made in the last 24 hours.
Having the odd glass of wine with dinner or a casual cocktail with a friend probably won’t make too much of a difference on your mind and body. But did you know that too much alcohol can impact your hormones and your menstrual cycle?
How Alcohol Impacts Your Cycle
Alcohol is broken down by your liver. Your liver does a lot of things but one big role it plays is in processing your hormones. If you force your liver to work overtime processing last night’s festivities, your estrogen ends up at the back of the queue so to speak, and it won't be able to leave your body.
The result? Period symptoms like cramps, acne and mood swings can feel worse. It can also cause your magnesium levels to plummet, leaving you craving sugar and junk food. When you drink also makes a difference. As your hormone levels fluctuate throughout the month, the impact that alcohol will have on your system changes. During your period, for example, your female hormones are at their lowest. This means you might be able to drink more and suffer fewer consequences. But don’t take that as license to keep pouring. There are ample benefits to going dry.
Why Is Your Hangover Worse Before Your Period?
Your menstrual cycle can have an impact on your hangovers. You may have noticed that sometimes you can drink quite a lot and wake up feeling decent, and other times a single drink can leave you with a sore head the next day. It seems that women may be more susceptible to the effects of alcohol in the week before their period. The reason? Estrogen. After ovulation, the liver has to break down estrogen. If you have a lot of drinks during these days, the increased burden of alcohol and estrogen together on the liver could cause issues such as headaches, water retention and bloating. So don’t add too much alcohol to the mix if you want to avoid these issues.
Why Go Dry?
Have you heard of Dry February? Now in its 7th year, the Tournee Minerale is a Belgian initiative encouraging people not to drink alcohol during the month of February. Since it started in 2017, nearly 2 million people in Belgium have taken part and have reaped the rewards of an alcohol-free month. A survey by UGent found that almost all (9 out of 10) people who took part felt at least one positive effect of going dry for a whole month. These ranged from more energy and better sleep to saving money and no hangovers!
Sounds great, right? But could you do it?
What Happens When You Don’t Drink for a Month?
Of course, the benefits vary from person to person, but for women especially, there are ample reasons to go dry. Here’s what happens to your body throughout the month when you give up alcohol.
Let the detox begin! If you are a heavy or regular drinker, you might find this to be the most difficult part of the month. You can do it! You might feel cravings for alcohol or, in some cases, withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, irritability, and trouble sleeping. Mild cases will resolve in a day or two. But, more severe cases might take longer. Stay strong!
You might still crave a drink, but this will improve as time goes on. As your nervous system adjusts to the absence of alcohol, you might notice that you start sleeping better or feel a bit brighter and clear-headed during the day. During this time, your liver will start to repair itself.
Day 30 and beyond:
Congratulations! You did it! If you decide to stay dry even longer, go for it! The benefits will increase as time goes on. Your organ function will improve. Your skin will look healthier and blood pressure might lower. Your immune system will be fired up and liver inflammation will also decrease. You might notice other benefits too, like dropping some weight you may have put on from alcohol.
After six months to a year, your cancer risk is reduced considerably and your liver will be functioning much better.
The Positive Benefits of Going Dry
Alcohol puts additional stress on the body, and reducing that stress can allow your body to get healthier. There are other lifestyle benefits too. Here are some of the key things you might notice from a month sans alcohol:
- Better sleep - When you go to sleep without alcohol in your bloodstream, you’ll get some quality Zzzs and actually get deep, restorative sleep. That’s because your body is actually relaxing and recovering, rather than processing alcohol.
- More energy / better focus - With all that extra, quality sleep, you might wake up each day feeling refreshed, focused and full of energy. Not right away of course. At the start of your foray into a dry month, you might actually feel annoyed and grumpy, but over time, you will start to notice your energy is higher and you are more focused and productive. You also won’t suffer the effects of a hangover, so there will be no more mornings waking up with a dread and a splitting headache!
- Weight loss - Alcohol packs a punch as far as calories are concerned, especially if you drink sugary cocktails or beer. But, we tend to ignore the calories in alcohol because… well, we like it! But you might be surprised how much extra weight you’re carrying just because of your alcohol consumption. For some people, giving up booze for a month can result in up to 2kgs of weight loss!
- Glowing skin - Alcohol dehydrates you so it can also dry out your skin. This can result in dull-looking, wrinkled skin. When you stop drinking, you might notice that your skin looks and feels a lot better. More moisture means hydrated, glowing skin!
- Saving money - Sort of a no brainer, right? But if you swap your expensive glass of wine for sparkling water, you’ll undoubtedly be saving money over the course of the month. How much? On average, Belgians drink an average of 462 Euros worth of alcoholic beverages per year. Not spending money on alcohol will mean you have that extra cash in your pocket for something else. So treat yourself to something Guud for your body instead? Did someone say… spa day?
- Better hormonal health / menstrual cycle - If you struggle with intense PMS symptoms or other issues related to hormonal imbalances, it could be a result of alcohol consumption. When you stop drinking, you may notice that your cycle regulates again. This is because regular periods are a sign that you are fit and healthy and that your body is balanced and nourished.
Practical Tips for a Dry February
Alcohol is often a big part of socialising. It can be hard to go out with friends, attend parties or gatherings and not drink. There’s temptation everywhere! Here are a few tips for how you can stick to your guns and make Dry February a success:
- When you want to unwind, do something other than reach for a drink! Play a game, go for a walk or call a friend for a chat and drink water while you do it.
- Check out the mocktail menu if you’re out with friends. Lots of restaurants now offer alcohol-free versions of many popular drinks that are a lovely alternative to their boozy counterpart. You can also try a different drink like kombucha which can feel like a little luxury when you’re out.
- Tell people what you’re doing. Not only will this help you feel more accountable, you will also have the support of your friends and family.
- Try something new. Try to identify times that you might normally have a drink and do something different. For example, if you’d normally go to the pub on a Friday night, plan a movie date or yoga class with a friend instead.
- Avoid bad influences. If you have friends who drink a lot, or there’s social gatherings that will center around booze, it’s OK to say no in order to stick to your goals.
Want to know more about the impact of alcohol on your body, check out our blog post here called Cheers to Being a Woman.