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Alcohol and Health

How Does Alcohol Affect Estrogen Levels?

Published:
August 3, 2023
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18 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
August 3, 2023
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18 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
August 3, 2023
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18 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
August 3, 2023
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18 min read
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Reframe Content Team
August 3, 2023
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18 min read

Hormones are finicky things: too much or too little of certain hormones can throw us all out of whack. Estrogen in particular – one of the main female sex hormones — is an important hormone that contributes to mood, bone strength, and even heart health. If we have too much or too little, we’re likely to experience health issues.

So, how does drinking alcohol affect our estrogen levels? Below, we’ll dive into the connection between alcohol consumption and estrogen levels, and how it affects men and women alike.

What Exactly Is Estrogen?

Estrogen is a female sex hormone that’s responsible for maintaining our sexual and reproductive health. Like other hormones, estrogen is a chemical messenger that tells our body when to start and stop processes affecting our health. It plays a particularly important role in the development of breasts and hips in women, the regulation of our menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause.

There are three major forms of estrogen:

  • Estrone (E1): This is the second most common type of estrogen produced by our body during childbearing years. It’s primarily made from another type of sex hormone in our body called androgens. During menopause, when our ovaries stop producing hormones, estrone is the only type of estrogen our body continues to produce.
  • Estradiol (E2): This is the primary form of estrogen in our body during reproductive years. During this time, we have more estradiol in our bloodstream than we do other types of estrogen. It’s the most common form of estrogen.
  • Estriol (E3): This is the primary form of estrogen during pregnancy. It is present only in a very small — nearly undetectable — amount in our bloodstream when we’re not pregnant. Although all types of estrogen levels increase when we’re pregnant, estriol levels increase the most.

Estrogen also has other non-reproductive functions that extend beyond fertility and sex-related functions. For instance, estrogen regulates important processes in our skeletal, cardiovascular, and central nervous systems that impact our overall health. More specifically, estrogen contributes to our:

  • Bone development and health: Estrogen plays an important role in the development of our bones. It also regulates bone turnover in our adult bones and protects against bone loss. During menopause, when estrogen levels fall, women can experience a significant increase in bone loss. This can lead to osteoporosis, which can increase our risk of broken bones.
  • Heart health: Estrogen helps protect against heart disease by keeping our blood vessels healthy, decreasing inflammation, and controlling our cholesterol levels. During menopause, as estrogen levels drop, women are at a greater risk for heart disease. In fact, complications of heart disease are the leading cause of death in women in the U.S.
  • Mood management: Estrogen also plays a role in brain function and brain health. In fact, researchers believe estrogen affects how our brain structures are connected, how our brain cells communicate, and even the shape of our brain. Furthermore, estrogen promotes the production of serotonin — an important brain chemical that plays a role in regulating our mood. When our estrogen is low, our serotonin levels will typically decrease as well. It’s thought that the low estrogen-related drop in serotonin production contributes to postpartum and menopausal depression.

How Does Alcohol Affect Estrogen Levels?

Alcohol has been shown to increase the amount of estrogen we produce. This might seem like a good thing, right? After all, estrogen is important for our heart, bone, and brain health. However, increased estrogen levels for a long period of time is also associated with the development of breast cancer in women.

How does this occur? Well, whenever we consume alcohol, our bodies metabolize it primarily in the liver. In the process of breaking down alcohol, the liver creates byproducts that can influence estrogen levels. Ethanol — the alcohol found in alcoholic beverages — can increase the enzyme aromatase, which converts testosterone and androgens into estrogen.

As a result, the more alcohol we consume, the higher our circulating estrogen levels can become — and the higher the risk for long-term hormonal imbalances.

How Much Alcohol Increases the Risk of Breast Cancer?

A drink here or there likely isn’t a cause for concern. Research shows that it’s mostly heavy, long-term consumption of alcohol that increases our risk for breast cancer due to prolonged high levels of estrogen.

In one study, moderate drinking was found to have little impact, but heavy drinking increases the risk of breast cancer in women with less body mass. However, another study found that moderate alcohol use in younger women increased breast cancer risk by 11 to 16 percent.

Furthermore, a pooled analysis of data from 53 studies found that for each alcohol drink consumed per day, the relative risk of breast cancer increased by 7 percent.

In general, studies indicate that estrogen levels are higher in women who drink alcohol than in non-drinkers. In addition to increasing the risk of breast cancer, heavy drinking can also increase the risk of heart and liver disease, weight gain, and osteoporosis.

Alcohol and estrogens: A glass of wine and a hormone molecule symbolize the potential interaction between alcohol consumption and estrogen levels

How Does Alcohol Affect Estrogen Levels After Menopause?

Estrogen levels typically drop during menopause as our body stops ovulating. This decrease in estrogen can lead to a host of unpleasant symptoms, such as mood changes, vaginal dryness, night sweats, and hot flashes.

Some people assume that because alcohol increases estrogen levels, older women can benefit from consuming small amounts of alcohol. After all, increased estrogen levels in older women can lead to improved cardiovascular health, stronger bone density, and better immune function. Higher estrogen levels may also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

However, consuming alcohol to increase our estrogen levels during or after menopause is unwise. We’d be much better off consulting a medical professional who can address any concerns about low estrogen levels. Many older women go through hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help balance their hormones.

Furthermore, heavy drinking can wreak havoc on older women’s health. During the menopausal years, women are at a greater risk for certain health conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, and osteoporosis. The risk becomes greater the more we drink. Alcohol can also make it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight, which can also increase the risk of certain conditions.

How Does Alcohol Affect Estrogen Levels in Men?

Alcohol also increases estrogen levels in men. While we usually associate estrogen with women, men also have this hormone. Even though women have significantly higher estrogen levels than men, it’s still important for men to maintain a proper balance of estrogen.

High levels of estrogen in men from excessive alcohol consumption can cause both short- and long-term complications, such as:

  • Infertility: Estrogen is one of the hormones used to produce sperm. High estrogen levels can slow down sperm production and make it harder to create healthy sperm.
  • Gynecomastia: Increased estrogen can cause more breast tissue to develop than normal. High levels can lead to the development of a condition called gynecomastia — a condition of overdevelopment or enlargement of the breast tissue in men.
  • Erectile dysfunction (ED): Increased estrogen levels can affect the balance of hormones that are needed to help men get an erection and stay erect. This is especially true if they also experience low testosterone levels.

Other possible symptoms of high estrogen levels that may happen along with other hormone imbalances include reduced sex drive, reduced sperm concentration in semen, feeling exhausted, losing hair, shrinking muscle mass, loss of bone density, hot flashes, and having trouble focusing.

Unlike women, levels of estrogen increase in men as they get older. High levels of estrogen in older men can increase the risk of certain conditions, including diabetes, blood clots, stroke, certain cancers, including breast and prostate cancer.

The Link Between Stress, Alcohol, and Estrogen

Interestingly, stress can exacerbate the effects of alcohol on estrogen levels. When we’re stressed, our bodies release stress hormones like cortisol, which can disrupt the balance of sex hormones, including estrogen. This hormonal shift can further contribute to a host of negative health outcomes, including mood disorders, impaired immune function, and increased risk of chronic diseases.

Tips for Promoting Hormonal Balance and Health

Here are some tips for protecting your estrogen levels and improving your overall hormonal health:

  • Limit alcohol consumption: As we’ve established, consuming alcohol can increase our estrogen levels, which puts us at a greater risk for developing breast cancer. Try limiting your alcohol intake or eliminating alcohol entirely. Mindful drinking can be particularly beneficial in helping us practice moderation.
  • Exercise regularly: Physical activity is beneficial for our overall mental, emotional, and physical health, including hormonal balance. Try to include both aerobic exercises and weight-bearing activities into our fitness routine. Experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
  • Practice good eating habits: Proper nutrition is important for our hormonal health. Reducing foods with sugar and eating foods high in fiber and healthy fats (those found in olive oils, nuts, seeds and fish) can help with hormone balance.
  • Manage stress: Stress can throw our hormones off balance.Try incorporating mindfulness meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, or stretching into our daily routine. These practices can help regulate stress hormones and support a healthier hormonal balance.
  • Prioritize sleep: Sleep deprivation can disrupt hormonal regulation. Aim to get at least 7 hours of quality sleep each night. In addition to supporting hormone health, sleep is important for regulating our metabolism, energy levels, mood, and immune function. Research indicates it can even add years to our life!
  • Minimize exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals: Limit exposure to chemicals found in pesticides, plastics, and certain personal care products, which can impact our estrogen levels. Instead, try opting for natural, organic products whenever possible.
  • Seek professional guidance: If we’re concerned about our estrogen levels or experiencing health issues related to hormonal imbalance, be sure to consult a medical or healthcare professional. They can run tests and develop a personalized treatment plan.

If we’re curious whether our estrogen levels are high, low, or normal, we can visit our doctor who can order a lab test that measures our levels of estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), or estriol (E3).

The Bottom Line

Alcohol increases estrogen levels in both women and men. High levels of estrogen in women over a long period of time can increase the risk of breast cancer. High levels of estrogen in men can lead to infertility, erectile dysfunction, and increase the risk of certain cancers. The more we drink, the greater the risk. While a drink here and there isn’t necessarily harmful, heavy, long-term consumption of alcohol can lead to a host of health complications. Even though estrogen levels drop during menopause, it’s wise not to consume alcohol, given that it can increase our risk for osteoporosis, heart disease, and other health issues.

If you’re looking to cut back on our alcohol consumption, consider trying Reframe. We’re a neuroscience-backed app that has helped millions of people cut back on their alcohol consumption and develop healthier lifestyles.

Hormones are finicky things: too much or too little of certain hormones can throw us all out of whack. Estrogen in particular – one of the main female sex hormones — is an important hormone that contributes to mood, bone strength, and even heart health. If we have too much or too little, we’re likely to experience health issues.

So, how does drinking alcohol affect our estrogen levels? Below, we’ll dive into the connection between alcohol consumption and estrogen levels, and how it affects men and women alike.

What Exactly Is Estrogen?

Estrogen is a female sex hormone that’s responsible for maintaining our sexual and reproductive health. Like other hormones, estrogen is a chemical messenger that tells our body when to start and stop processes affecting our health. It plays a particularly important role in the development of breasts and hips in women, the regulation of our menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause.

There are three major forms of estrogen:

  • Estrone (E1): This is the second most common type of estrogen produced by our body during childbearing years. It’s primarily made from another type of sex hormone in our body called androgens. During menopause, when our ovaries stop producing hormones, estrone is the only type of estrogen our body continues to produce.
  • Estradiol (E2): This is the primary form of estrogen in our body during reproductive years. During this time, we have more estradiol in our bloodstream than we do other types of estrogen. It’s the most common form of estrogen.
  • Estriol (E3): This is the primary form of estrogen during pregnancy. It is present only in a very small — nearly undetectable — amount in our bloodstream when we’re not pregnant. Although all types of estrogen levels increase when we’re pregnant, estriol levels increase the most.

Estrogen also has other non-reproductive functions that extend beyond fertility and sex-related functions. For instance, estrogen regulates important processes in our skeletal, cardiovascular, and central nervous systems that impact our overall health. More specifically, estrogen contributes to our:

  • Bone development and health: Estrogen plays an important role in the development of our bones. It also regulates bone turnover in our adult bones and protects against bone loss. During menopause, when estrogen levels fall, women can experience a significant increase in bone loss. This can lead to osteoporosis, which can increase our risk of broken bones.
  • Heart health: Estrogen helps protect against heart disease by keeping our blood vessels healthy, decreasing inflammation, and controlling our cholesterol levels. During menopause, as estrogen levels drop, women are at a greater risk for heart disease. In fact, complications of heart disease are the leading cause of death in women in the U.S.
  • Mood management: Estrogen also plays a role in brain function and brain health. In fact, researchers believe estrogen affects how our brain structures are connected, how our brain cells communicate, and even the shape of our brain. Furthermore, estrogen promotes the production of serotonin — an important brain chemical that plays a role in regulating our mood. When our estrogen is low, our serotonin levels will typically decrease as well. It’s thought that the low estrogen-related drop in serotonin production contributes to postpartum and menopausal depression.

How Does Alcohol Affect Estrogen Levels?

Alcohol has been shown to increase the amount of estrogen we produce. This might seem like a good thing, right? After all, estrogen is important for our heart, bone, and brain health. However, increased estrogen levels for a long period of time is also associated with the development of breast cancer in women.

How does this occur? Well, whenever we consume alcohol, our bodies metabolize it primarily in the liver. In the process of breaking down alcohol, the liver creates byproducts that can influence estrogen levels. Ethanol — the alcohol found in alcoholic beverages — can increase the enzyme aromatase, which converts testosterone and androgens into estrogen.

As a result, the more alcohol we consume, the higher our circulating estrogen levels can become — and the higher the risk for long-term hormonal imbalances.

How Much Alcohol Increases the Risk of Breast Cancer?

A drink here or there likely isn’t a cause for concern. Research shows that it’s mostly heavy, long-term consumption of alcohol that increases our risk for breast cancer due to prolonged high levels of estrogen.

In one study, moderate drinking was found to have little impact, but heavy drinking increases the risk of breast cancer in women with less body mass. However, another study found that moderate alcohol use in younger women increased breast cancer risk by 11 to 16 percent.

Furthermore, a pooled analysis of data from 53 studies found that for each alcohol drink consumed per day, the relative risk of breast cancer increased by 7 percent.

In general, studies indicate that estrogen levels are higher in women who drink alcohol than in non-drinkers. In addition to increasing the risk of breast cancer, heavy drinking can also increase the risk of heart and liver disease, weight gain, and osteoporosis.

Alcohol and estrogens: A glass of wine and a hormone molecule symbolize the potential interaction between alcohol consumption and estrogen levels

How Does Alcohol Affect Estrogen Levels After Menopause?

Estrogen levels typically drop during menopause as our body stops ovulating. This decrease in estrogen can lead to a host of unpleasant symptoms, such as mood changes, vaginal dryness, night sweats, and hot flashes.

Some people assume that because alcohol increases estrogen levels, older women can benefit from consuming small amounts of alcohol. After all, increased estrogen levels in older women can lead to improved cardiovascular health, stronger bone density, and better immune function. Higher estrogen levels may also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

However, consuming alcohol to increase our estrogen levels during or after menopause is unwise. We’d be much better off consulting a medical professional who can address any concerns about low estrogen levels. Many older women go through hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help balance their hormones.

Furthermore, heavy drinking can wreak havoc on older women’s health. During the menopausal years, women are at a greater risk for certain health conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, and osteoporosis. The risk becomes greater the more we drink. Alcohol can also make it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight, which can also increase the risk of certain conditions.

How Does Alcohol Affect Estrogen Levels in Men?

Alcohol also increases estrogen levels in men. While we usually associate estrogen with women, men also have this hormone. Even though women have significantly higher estrogen levels than men, it’s still important for men to maintain a proper balance of estrogen.

High levels of estrogen in men from excessive alcohol consumption can cause both short- and long-term complications, such as:

  • Infertility: Estrogen is one of the hormones used to produce sperm. High estrogen levels can slow down sperm production and make it harder to create healthy sperm.
  • Gynecomastia: Increased estrogen can cause more breast tissue to develop than normal. High levels can lead to the development of a condition called gynecomastia — a condition of overdevelopment or enlargement of the breast tissue in men.
  • Erectile dysfunction (ED): Increased estrogen levels can affect the balance of hormones that are needed to help men get an erection and stay erect. This is especially true if they also experience low testosterone levels.

Other possible symptoms of high estrogen levels that may happen along with other hormone imbalances include reduced sex drive, reduced sperm concentration in semen, feeling exhausted, losing hair, shrinking muscle mass, loss of bone density, hot flashes, and having trouble focusing.

Unlike women, levels of estrogen increase in men as they get older. High levels of estrogen in older men can increase the risk of certain conditions, including diabetes, blood clots, stroke, certain cancers, including breast and prostate cancer.

The Link Between Stress, Alcohol, and Estrogen

Interestingly, stress can exacerbate the effects of alcohol on estrogen levels. When we’re stressed, our bodies release stress hormones like cortisol, which can disrupt the balance of sex hormones, including estrogen. This hormonal shift can further contribute to a host of negative health outcomes, including mood disorders, impaired immune function, and increased risk of chronic diseases.

Tips for Promoting Hormonal Balance and Health

Here are some tips for protecting your estrogen levels and improving your overall hormonal health:

  • Limit alcohol consumption: As we’ve established, consuming alcohol can increase our estrogen levels, which puts us at a greater risk for developing breast cancer. Try limiting your alcohol intake or eliminating alcohol entirely. Mindful drinking can be particularly beneficial in helping us practice moderation.
  • Exercise regularly: Physical activity is beneficial for our overall mental, emotional, and physical health, including hormonal balance. Try to include both aerobic exercises and weight-bearing activities into our fitness routine. Experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
  • Practice good eating habits: Proper nutrition is important for our hormonal health. Reducing foods with sugar and eating foods high in fiber and healthy fats (those found in olive oils, nuts, seeds and fish) can help with hormone balance.
  • Manage stress: Stress can throw our hormones off balance.Try incorporating mindfulness meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, or stretching into our daily routine. These practices can help regulate stress hormones and support a healthier hormonal balance.
  • Prioritize sleep: Sleep deprivation can disrupt hormonal regulation. Aim to get at least 7 hours of quality sleep each night. In addition to supporting hormone health, sleep is important for regulating our metabolism, energy levels, mood, and immune function. Research indicates it can even add years to our life!
  • Minimize exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals: Limit exposure to chemicals found in pesticides, plastics, and certain personal care products, which can impact our estrogen levels. Instead, try opting for natural, organic products whenever possible.
  • Seek professional guidance: If we’re concerned about our estrogen levels or experiencing health issues related to hormonal imbalance, be sure to consult a medical or healthcare professional. They can run tests and develop a personalized treatment plan.

If we’re curious whether our estrogen levels are high, low, or normal, we can visit our doctor who can order a lab test that measures our levels of estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), or estriol (E3).

The Bottom Line

Alcohol increases estrogen levels in both women and men. High levels of estrogen in women over a long period of time can increase the risk of breast cancer. High levels of estrogen in men can lead to infertility, erectile dysfunction, and increase the risk of certain cancers. The more we drink, the greater the risk. While a drink here and there isn’t necessarily harmful, heavy, long-term consumption of alcohol can lead to a host of health complications. Even though estrogen levels drop during menopause, it’s wise not to consume alcohol, given that it can increase our risk for osteoporosis, heart disease, and other health issues.

If you’re looking to cut back on our alcohol consumption, consider trying Reframe. We’re a neuroscience-backed app that has helped millions of people cut back on their alcohol consumption and develop healthier lifestyles.

Summary FAQs

1. How does alcohol affect estrogen levels in women?

Alcohol increases estrogen levels in women. High levels of estrogen in women over a long period of time can increase the risk of breast cancer.

2. How does alcohol affect estrogen levels in men?

Alcohol increases estrogen levels in men. High levels of estrogen in men can lead to infertility, erectile dysfunction, and increase the risk of certain cancers.

3. What is estrogen and why is it important?

Estrogen is a female sex hormone that’s responsible for maintaining our sexual and reproductive health. It also plays an important role in our heart health, bone health, mood, and brain function.

4. How can we promote hormonal balance and health?

We can support our hormone health by limiting our alcohol consumption, regularly exercising, getting proper nutrition, managing stress, prioritizing sleep, minimizing exposure to toxins, and seeking professional guidance when necessary.

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