Sometimes a glass of red wine tops off a meal perfectly, or a cocktail with friends is the best way to unwind.
But recent research has shown that women—even more than men—have to be careful about how much alcohol they consume. Not only do women’s bodies metabolize alcohol differently, they can also be at a greater risk of some diseases linked to alcohol.
How much alcohol are you drinking per day? It’s worthwhile asking yourself that question, as you may want to cut back a little to protect your health.
Women Metabolize Alcohol Differently
When it comes to alcohol, women and men really are from different planets. There are several differences in the two physical bodies that adds up to one fact: alcohol affects women more than it does men.
- Women can’t dilute the alcohol as well: Women have less water in their bodies than men, which means when they consume alcohol, it doesn’t become as diluted as it does in men’s bodies, meaning the “dose” remains higher.
- Women can’t metabolize it as quickly: An enzyme called “dehydrogenase” helps break down alcohol in the body. Men have more of it than women do. That means that the alcohol will stay in a woman’s body longer than in a man’s.
- Hormones can become a factor: A woman’s menstrual cycle, or hormonal changes later in life, can affect how the body processes alcohol. Hormone-based medications like the birth control pill can also affect processing, and women may feel the effects of alcohol more while taking it.
- Women have more body fat: Women naturally have more body fat than men. Fat doesn’t absorb alcohol, so a higher amount of fat means that the alcohol will take longer to process, and women will feel the effects more.
All of this means that when a woman takes a drink, it will affect her much more than it will a man, and for a longer period of time. Even if a woman and a man drink the same amount of alcohol, the woman’s blood alcohol content (BAC) will be much higher. This is one of the reasons why healthcare organizations recommend that women drink no more than one drink a day, while men can drink two.
How Alcohol Affects a Woman’s Health
A number of studies have revealed that in general, women are more vulnerable to the damaging effects of alcohol than men are. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports the following:
- Liver damage: Women develop alcohol-induced liver disease over a shorter period of time and after consuming less alcohol than men. They’re also more likely to develop alcoholic hepatitis and to die of cirrhosis.
- Breast cancer: Several studies show that moderate to heavy alcohol consumption increases risk for breast cancer.
- Brain damage: MRI studies suggest that women may be more vulnerable to alcohol-induced brain damage than men.
- Violence: Research shows a significant relationship between how much alcohol a woman drinks each week and her risk of being sexually assaulted.
- Drunk driving: Women are less likely to drive after drinking, or to be involved in alcohol-related crashes, but when they are, they have a higher risk of fatality than men with similar BACs.
How Alcohol Affects the Skin
In addition to all these concerns, drinking too much can also wreak havoc on your skin.
- Dehydrates it: Alcohol dehydrates the body overall, which naturally affects the skin, too. If you drink regularly, you could be accelerating the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. That excess dryness could cause the skin to produce more oil, which could lead to more acne breakouts.
- Inflames it: Alcohol encourages internal inflammation, and inflammation can cause skin redness, flushing, puffiness, and may even increase risk of acne.
- Breaks it down: Alcohol breaks down the collagen in the skin, which over time can lead to more sagging and bagging, and more wrinkles, too.
- Robs it of blood flow: Excess alcohol interferes with normal blood flow, robbing the skin of the nutrients it needs to look its best.
- Messes with your sleep. Alcohol disturbs sleep, particularly deep sleep, and as we mentioned in a previous post, a bad night’s sleep can make you look older.
The other ingredients in your drink could affect your skin, too. Beer has a lot of sodium, for example, which can cause swollen eyes and thirsty skin. Cocktails may contain sugary juices or sodas that increase inflammation and may contribute to skin aging.
Bottom Line: Think Twice Before Taking that Second Drink
Considering all of the above, what should women do?
The best approach is to limit your alcohol consumption to the recommended one drink per day or less, or no more than seven drinks a week. If your health is at risk, or if you have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 breast cancer gene, talk to your doctor about your alcohol consumption.
One drink is defined as the following:
- 12 ounces of regular beer
- 5 ounces of wine
- 5 ounces of distilled spirits
Are you cautious about your alcohol consumption?
Source“Are Women More Vulnerable to Alcohol’s Effects?” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, December 1999, https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa46.htm.