Your favourite glass of rosé, red 🍷or tequila 🍸 may have more to do with your increased estrogen levels than you’d care to acknowledge (and I am absolutely guilty of this!). But there is at least a little hope!
What does science have to say about it, and is there a difference between what type of alcohol you drink and its effect on estrogen?
Science has long held the belief that any alcohol consumption will increase estrogen levels, and related issues such as breast cancer risk. However, more recent studies show that it may not be as straight forward. Both what you drink, and how much of it seem to play a role (surprise!).
A Cedar-Sinai study published in 2012 challenged that belief. This study found that chemicals in red wine (from the skins and seeds of red grapes) slightly lowered estrogen levels among premenopausal women who drank 8 ounces of red wine nightly for about a month (1). However, in other studies no beneficial effect was found with any other alcohol consumption, though the risks may still be low at one drink per day (2). A literature review done in 2015 by researchers at the Washington University in St. Louis demonstrated that small amounts of red wine may be protective due to resveratrol, where other alcohols such as white wine did not show a beneficial effect. Some hop-derived compounds, such as xanthohumol and hop bitter acids, seem to have a cancer preventative effect, yet the amount of them present in beer is very low, and absorption very limited, so the detrimental and estrogen increasing effects likely outweigh its benefits (2).
Most studies are conclusive that more than that 1 drink of anything much increases estrogen levels, especially if drinking started in puberty and early adulthood (2).
A controlled diet study reported that consumption of 30 g ethanol (∼2.5 drinks) per day for three menstrual cycles was associated with a 28% increase in plasma estradiol and a 21% increase in plasma estrone among women aged 21–40 years (2). Both estradiol and estrone are types of estrogen in the body, with estradiol being the most bioactive in premenopausal years.
A recent meta-analysis of eight prospective studies among postmenopausal women showed that alcohol intake is positively associated with all the sex hormones (meaning an increase in alcohol relates to an increase in hormones), with the strongest association for dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS), which is a precursor to both estrogens and testosterone (3). In one study, blood estrone and DHEAS were increased by 8 and 5% in women consuming 15 g of alcohol (roughly 1.25 drinks) per day, respectively.
How does it do that?
Studies show that alcohol may increase circulating sex hormone levels (DHEAs, estrogen, testosterone etc) through an increase in free radicals that hamper with liver function, and the resulting inhibition of certain enzymes needed for the sex hormones’ breakdown (2).
Another explanation is the increased aromatase activity following chronic alcohol consumption. Aromatase is an important enzyme that turns testosterone into estrogen. An upregulation thereof leads to an enhanced conversion of testosterone to estrogens with resulting high estrogens and low testosterone levels (2). You may be familiar with the ‘beer belly’ or ‘alcohol gut’- one of the reasons thereof is alcohol’s reduction of testosterone in favour of estrogen.
Why rosé or that sugary cocktail may be worse than straight tequila
Don’t dispair, you don’t have to stop drinking entirely, but you may want to choose your elixir wisely. Regardless of the above mentioned stats, there are other factors that influence how well your body may be able to deal with alcohol, and how to adjust your choice to be able to mitigate it all at least a bit.
A lot of my readers by know may have heard of the term candida. Candida (albicans) is a type of yeast that is present in small amount as part of our gut microbes in most of us. However, when that type of yeast starts to take over, as can happen if the ‘good’ gut bacteria were wiped out along with the ‘bad guys’ during a round of antibiotics, if a person eats excess sugars that feed this type of yeast, or some other factors that we won’t go into detail today, it can become more ‘systemic’. A reliable test is a urinary organic acid test (OAT) for it’s urinary breakdown product called arabinose, or antibody testing in the blood. But what does candida have to do with alcohol and estrogen?
Alcohol’s breakdown product is called acetaldehyde. It blocks estrogen breakdown and contributes to its accumulation, if excessively consumed. Candida’s waste product also is acetaldehyde, and as such directly increases estrogen.
Now, candida loves sugars. If we drink alcohol that has a higher sugar content, we feed the candida at the same time as we consume alcohol, a double whammy.
Fructose, the sugar found in syrups and fruit (i.e. more of it is found in cocktails and sweeter wines) has been shown to put strain on the liver. The liver is the organ that deals with both alcohol and estrogen breakdown. Again, a sugary alcoholic drink is a double whammy to our very own detox pathways, leading to more accumulation and damage.
Alcohol – Histamine connection
And lastly the big histamine question. Individuals with histamine intolerance (acquired or genetic) have trouble breaking down histamine, and may experience higher levels of circulating histamine. Histamine increases estrogen production, and has been linked to endometriosis via additional pathways. But what is the alcohol-histamine connection?
All alcohol breaks down into acetaldehyde, which has been shown to trigger histamine release. Further, alcohol reduces the activity of the histamine breakdown enzyme DAO in the gut. So no alcohol is particularly great for histamine intolerant individuals. However, some may be worse than others. Certain alcohols have intrinsically already higher levels of histamine and can lead to trouble faster . A study assessed histamine content in 52 wines (red, white, and champagne) and in 17 beers by radioimmunoassay. Histamine levels ranged from 3-120 micrograms/l in white wines; 15-670 micrograms/l in champagnes; 60-3800 micrograms/l in red wines; and 21-305 micrograms/l in beers (4). If you have histamine intolerance, you may do better with that clear spirit on soda, the rocks, or neat.
Try sticking to one drink, and ideally either a dry variety of red, or, if you have histamine intolerance issues which on its own can increase estrogen, a clean spirit like tequila, vodka or gin on soda or straight that won’t feed your candida! 🍸
Oh, and increasing your folate intake (leafy greens!) has been shown to mitigate some of the bad effects, as does a diet generally higher in veggies (especially the cruciferous type!) & good proteins to support your liver and gut microbiome, and low-ish in carbs to starve candida (yet not keto all the time! More on that in a later post) 😘.