Bellying up to the bar every once in a while isn’t too different from indulging in a tray of fried food with your girlfriends during a special occasion. But when you end up “celebrating” your hectic Monday, Tuesday and, OK, your whole week, the effects can ultimately be worse than any hangover.
It turns out we metabolize alcohol differently than men do, which can affect women in several ways, say Dr. Sai Prasanna Mannem, a physician at Overlake Hospital Medical Center, and Meredith Lepore, a nurse practitioner at Overlake. The differences, they explain, are due to a woman’s smaller body size, the high percentage of body weight made up of water in women’s bodies, and the process — different in men and women — of breaking down alcohol in the stomach.
Alcohol can raise a woman’s blood pressure, and evidence suggests that women who drink daily have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. “A nurses’ health study showed a small increased risk of breast cancer at levels equivalent to three to six drinks per week,” Lepore says.
Women also have a higher probability of developing head and neck cancers when they drink alcohol three to 14 times a week, and that number doubles for women who have more than 15 drinks per week, says Lepore.
The data varies depending on a woman’s genetic predisposition and lifestyle. Lepore advises women to stick with no more than two drinks daily — and red wine (when used in moderation) is typically the safest bet.
According to Mannem, heavy drinking is defined as seven drinks per week, or three drinks per occasion. That number increases for men.
Perhaps the starkest difference between the sexes and their alcohol consumption is fertility. Dr. Kristin Graha, an OB/GYN at Overlake, says that alcohol can affect a woman’s ability to get pregnant.
Drinking can lead to irregular, absent periods, lack of ovulation and abnormal uterine wall development, Graha says. “A Harvard University study of couples undergoing IVF showed that women who drank more than six drinks per week were 18 percent less likely to conceive,” she says.
During pregnancy, there is no safe time to indulge because alcohol can affect the fetus at any stage. “When [a woman is] pregnant, alcohol consumption increases the risk of miscarriage, preterm birth, stillbirth and birth defects,” says Graha.
Breastfeeding mothers should wait four hours after drinking alcohol before a feeding their baby, she says. Any sooner, and the baby could have developmental delays, as some alcohol does enter the breast milk.
Allyson Marrs is a Pacific Northwest native, which means she always has a great fleece nearby. A writer with a special interest in health and wellness, she loves to silence her mind with great movies and TV.
10 ways to de-stress without alcohol
1. Work it out. Exercise releases endorphins, which make our mood shift positively. Besides that, exercise is a great release, especially if you’re the type of person whose stress turns into frustration.
2. Cook. Cooking requires a certain degree of concentration, so your mind has no time to focus on other things. From gathering the ingredients to measuring the amounts, it’s a calming process.
3. Take a bath. Luxuriously warm water filled with decadent bath salts, while soft music plays in the corner of a candlelit room — admit it: Just the thought of spending an hour in the tub has you more relaxed.
4. Close your eyes. We’re constantly on sensory overload, with sounds and visual cues overwhelmingly vying for our attention. Close your eyes for five minutes and focus only on the sound of your breathing.
5. Listen. Go to a park, or any other spot in nature, and listen to the sounds around you. Nature always has a song to play, and it’s one of the best.
6. Escape into a book. Live someone else’s life for a while by reading about your favorite characters and their adventures. Not only will it help you unwind, it will also help feed your mind.
7. Get creative. Write a short story, paint a picture or finally start that DIY project. By engaging the creative side of your brain, you’ll use less of the analytical side. Accomplishing a project is also a great self-esteem boost.
8. See the light. The sun can have an immediate, positive effect on our emotions, yet its appearance isn’t a sure thing. Light therapy has been shown to work wonders on mood, in as little as 15 minutes a day. It’s also known to give a little energy kick.
9. Splurge on a favorite. There’s a reason it’s called retail therapy. Go and indulge in a new outfit, fresh makeup or a new haircut. When you look good, you feel good.
10. Feed your emotions. Occasionally, a good cry is the release your body needs to reset. Stress can make us feel crazy, and sometimes the only way to get the crazy out is to give in to it.