alcohol menstrual cycle

Does Alcohol Affect Your Period?

Dr. Jolene BrightenPublished: Last Reviewed: Menstrual Cycle Leave a Comment

Does alcohol affect your period and what about your hormones? We’re all pretty familiar with the negative effect alcohol can have on us the day after we’ve had a few too many cocktails…dehydration, screaming headaches, and fatigue. Hangovers are no fun, right? 

But can alcohol affect your period and hormones, too? 

Let’s explore the ways alcohol can potentially affect your hormones, fertility, and premenstrual symptoms. Plus, I’m giving you some ideas about what to eat and drink on your period instead of that bottle of red you’ve been saving up for PMS week. 

How Does Alcohol Affect My Hormones?

When you understand the impact on hormones then it becomes clear that yes, alcohol affects your period.

When you drink alcohol, it obviously affects your liver since this is the primary organ charged with processing alcohol. This in turn can directly affect blood sugar levels, since your liver plays a primary role in the regulation of glucose in the body. 

Since your liver also plays a large role in the processing of your body’s hormones, it makes sense that research points to a relationship between the consumption of alcohol and increased hot flashes and night sweats in perimenopausal and menopausal women. 

Alcohol can also impact the endocrine system – the network of glands that produce your hormones – which can alter cortisol levels, estrogen levels, progesterone levels, and bone density. 

These alcohol-induced hormonal changes can affect the entire body. 

Some of the consequences of chronic alcohol consumption can include:

  • Menstrual cycle irregularities
  • HPA axis dysregulation
  • Infertility
  • Early menopause
  • Breast cancer
  • Blood sugar irregularities
  • Circadian rhythm disruption
  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Heart disease
  • Osteoporosis
  • Liver disease

Does Alcohol Affect Your Period?

The short answer here is yes, alcohol can definitely throw off your menstrual cycle. 

The more alcohol you consume, the more likely you are to experience menstrual cycle irregularities. 

However, even moderate alcohol consumption has been linked to higher levels of estrogen and lower levels of progesterone in menstruating women. And one study recorded increased levels of estrogen, testosterone, and luteinizing hormone (LH) after just one alcoholic drink. This means that alcohol can likely affect your cycle. 

If you’re a woman struggling with significant symptoms of estrogen dominance then you want to take note of this.

In women with PCOS, LH and testosterone abnormalities can play a significant role in irregular cycles, failure to ovulate, infertility, hair loss and acne. If you’re struggling with symptoms of PCOS, then now is a good time to evaluate your relationship with alcohol.

Everyone’s threshold varies depending on hormone status, genetics, liver efficiency, sugar consumption, and a long list of other factors. Some women may experience noticeable menstrual abnormalities after having a minimal amount of alcohol, and others may be able to have a little more without perceiving any effects (even if blood tests would show hormone changes). It’s highly individual. 

Does Alcohol Cause Irregular Cycles?

The research we have so far seems to support that drinking, even in small amounts, can affect your hormone levels, and in a lot of women, it can cause period irregularity.

Your cycle operates on a specific symphony of fluctuating hormones. So when alcohol comes in and makes changes to those levels, cycle irregularity can result.

Heavy drinking, defined as binge drinking (four or more drinks over the course of two hours) at least five times in a month, appears to make the most significant changes to your cycle — and can even bring it to a halt. 

how much alcohol changes periods

Does Alcohol Cause PMS?

Research has shown that drinking can make you 45% more likely to experience PMS symptoms. More than one drink a day ups that to a 79% increase in risk.This may be because of the effect alcohol has on increasing estrogen.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that alcohol causes PMS, but it does mean that if PMS symptoms are plaguing your life, it may be time to consider cutting alcohol out and see if it helps you.   

Plus, if you’re already suffering from headaches, fatigue, and anxiety brought about by PMS, adding alcohol to the equation probably won’t make things any better. 

Does Alcohol Help Cramps?

When you’re in pain, there’s definitely an instinct to reach for something to dull the discomfort. While alcohol can be a tempting way to distract yourself, it’s really not going to help your cramps in the long run.

Alcohol is dehydrating, which is exactly the opposite of what you want if you’re dealing with cramping. Plus, alcohol depletes magnesium, and when magnesium is low, smooth muscle cramps and prostaglandins (the hormone-like chemicals that cause cramping) increase — which means period cramps and PMS get worse

So it’s best to refrain from alcohol if cramps are part of your monthly symptoms. If you’re struggling with PMS and cramps, check out this article for tons of ways to naturally help relieve them.  

Does Alcohol Make Period Symptoms Worse?

Alcohol can make your period symptoms worse — in more than a few ways. 

  1. It can lead to dehydration, which may worsen cramping.
  2. It can deplete magnesium levels, which means PMS and cramps increase.
  3. It may cause fluctuations in your hormone levels — which means your period symptoms can get worse.
  4. It keeps your liver busy. Instead of breaking down excess hormones during your period, your liver is distracted dealing with processing alcohol. This means your period might come with more misery than usual.
  5. It can affect your gut microbiome and can make you more susceptible to leaky gut and inflammation. That can leave your body less equipped to properly process hormones during your period, potentially causing symptoms to flare up.
  6. It can cause your blood sugar levels to rise when you drink in moderation. In the second half of the menstrual cycle cycle (after ovulation), many women are more insulin resistant. Adding alcohol to the equation can make things worse.

Does Alcohol Affect Menstrual Flow?

Just like with your hormone levels, alcohol can affect your menstrual flow, but the effects are likely to be minimal.

The main issue here lies in the dehydration that alcohol typically causes. When your uterine lining and mucus membranes are dehydrated from alcohol consumption, some speculate that it can impair your period flow. That said, dehydrating yourself on purpose will not slow a heavy period. If you’re dealing with heavy periods, read this

On the flipside, alcohol is a blood thinner so some women could experience a heavier flow. 

Does Alcohol Make Your Periods Heavier?

Alcohol can also make your periods heavier. Since alcohol can increase your estrogen levels, if you’re drinking you may notice a heavier flow. 

That’s because estrogen stimulates the growth of your endometrial tissue, the lining of your uterus that you shed during your period.

In the short term, a drink while you’re having your period won’t likely affect your flow, but you may notice the effects during your next cycle depending on how much you’ve been drinking.

Why Does Alcohol Stop My Period?

Unfortunately, alcohol can’t really ‘stop’ your period if you’re on it. I know some women look to alcohol as a proposed remedy for stopping their period for a few hours so they can engage in sex…but it really doesn’t work. At best, you’ll feel the short term effects of alcohol. Followed by the aftermath of messing with your hormones, dehydration , and you may even end up having a heavier bleed next cycle. 

As explained, the changes to your hormone levels that alcohol can cause in some women could result in amenorrhea or loss of your period. If you lose your period, be sure to check in with your doctor and share with them your alcohol intake. 

It’s a good reminder that if you’re embarrassed to talk to your doctor about how much you drink, then you probably know it’s too much. 

Does Alcohol Make You Bleed More?

From a non-period perspective, alcohol can make your blood thinner. So if you cut yourself or go to get a tattoo while you’re drinking, you may notice that you bleed more than normal.

Some people report alcohol does increase their flow if they drink on their period. However, much like slowing your flow, this is mostly anecdotal due to lack of evidence.

alcohol women's hormones

Can You Drink Alcohol While On Your Period?

Generally, it’s probably a good idea to avoid drinking alcohol while on your period. Just as alcohol can intensify PMS symptoms, it can make your period worse, too.

That said, if it is a special occasion or truly one drink then it is unlikely to be much of an issue. 

If you’re already feeling emotional during your period, adding alcohol to the mix may not be an ideal solution. In cases of PMDD, a drink rarely does anyone any favors in feeling better because it can intensify emotions that are already heightened.

Is Your Alcohol Tolerance Lower On Your Period?

While dehydration is a factor, alcohol tolerance can shift during your period, too. This means that it’s likely that less alcohol will make you feel intoxicated. 

For a lot of women, blood sugar imbalances and insulin resistance tend to increase in the second half of your cycle, after you’ve ovulated. 

Alcohol tends to increase your blood sugar levels, especially when you drink in moderation. This makes for a perfect storm, especially if you’re reaching for a fruity or sugary cocktail. Overall, you’re more likely to feel drunker, quicker, likely because of the effects on your blood sugar levels.

Why Do I Crave Alcohol Before My Period?

When estrogen levels are high, research indicates that you may be more prone to experience the pleasurable effects of alcohol…which researchers postulate may be the reason women develop an addiction to it

It may be this phenomenon that makes you crave alcohol in the week before your period, since estrogen levels are higher during that time. It could also be that you’re feeling uncomfortable and want to reach for a drink to help numb the pain, anxiety, and overall discomfort of PMS.

When Is The Worst Time To Drink Alcohol During My Cycle?

Drinking comes with risk all month long, especially when estrogen levels are peaking — and those are the times we seem to crave alcohol the most. Estrogen levels peak just before ovulation and about a week before your period starts, so those would be ideal times to avoid drinking.

Furthermore, if you’re trying to get pregnant or are sexually active, it may be best to stop consuming alcohol when you’re about to ovulate. Drinking while pregnant can cause health problems for your baby that last a lifetime, so it’s best to avoid any alcohol consumption when you’re expecting.

What Should I Drink On My Period?

Instead of reaching for an alcoholic beverage, there are plenty of other, more hormone-friendly options to consider.

Water

Drinking water and keeping hydrated is always a great idea, especially when you’re on your period.

Coconut Water

I also love to sip on coconut water. It’s full of electrolytes, essential nutrients, and tastes amazing if you like coconut.

Bone Broth

Bone broth is another all-around superstar for period problems. Sipping a warm mug of bone broth can be incredibly soothing, and it’s full of gut-loving properties that will ultimately help you minimize period symptoms.

Ginger Tea

Ginger tea is great for you, and it’s even been shown to be nearly as effective as ibuprofen for relieving period pain. You can make your own ginger tea easily by chopping up a small nub of ginger and boiling it in water for about 10 minutes. 

Chamomile Tea

Chamomile tea is famous for helping to induce sleep, but it also has been studied for its ability to reduce irritability and anxiety — two hallmark symptoms of PMS. Just another excuse to wind down with a mug of chamomile at the end of a long day.  

Green Tea

Another favorite, green tea is full of health benefits and has been widely studied for its anti-inflammatory properties. Studies show that L-theanine, a key component of green tea, can effectively for reducing anxiety that often accompanies your period. 

Peppermint Tea

Research shows that peppermint extract may reduce period pain. Peppermint also does a great job of settling your stomach, making it an ideal choice for a period time drink.

What Does Drinking A Lot Of Water Do For Your Period?

Staying properly hydrated is important at all times, but especially when you’re on your period. 

It seems counterintuitive, but drinking plenty of water can help reduce bloating. It can also help keep your uterine lining properly hydrated, which means it will flow out of the body just a little bit easier. 

Does Pickle Juice Help With Period Cramps?

Weird as it may sound, pickle juice may actually help with period cramps (or muscle cramps of any kind). 

While doctors don’t really understand why this works, a shot of pickle juice can resolve muscle cramps in a minute and half, according to a 2010 study. This hasn’t been studied specifically for menstrual cramps, but if you don’t mind the taste of pickles and are in need of a quick fix for your cramps, there’s no reason to not give it a try.

What Should I Eat When I’m On My Period 

While you may be drawn to fries, chocolate, and ice cream around period time, these choices have been shown to increase period problems and increase inflammation — which is exactly what you’re trying to avoid during your period. 

Check out my in-depth article here where I outline all of the best food choices while on your period.

And if you’re looking for the quickest and easiest way to get your hormones on track all month long, check out my free starter kit that includes recipes and a week-long meal plan. 

Does Alcohol Affect Fertility?

While we know for sure that drinking during pregnancy can cause a host of complications for the baby, the effects of alcohol on fertility are less well-studied.

As we’ve discussed, alcohol can cause changes to hormone levels and potentially interfere with ovulation or even stop a woman’s period. That can likely make getting pregnant more difficult.

One study showed that women who were undergoing in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments were 16% less likely to have a live birth if they consumed 4 drinks per week

On the other hand, a Danish study showed no effect on fertility for women who drank less than 14 alcoholic beverages per week.

What Other Effects Does Alcohol Have On Women's Health?

Research shows that women who consume just 3 alcoholic drinks per week (well below the “occasional” threshold definition) are 15% more likely to develop breast cancer. Overall, the risk for breast cancer increases by 7% for every 10g of alcohol consumed in a day.

Some of the other ways alcohol consumption can negatively affect women include:

But what about occasional alcohol consumption? 

Can that disrupt hormones too? 

Let’s take a look.

Does An Occasional Drink Mess With Hormones?

The research on the effects of occasional alcohol consumption on hormones is all over the map.

In one review, researchers summarized some of the inconsistencies in the data:

  • Occasional alcohol consumption caused an apparent increase in estrogen with wine, but not beer or whiskey
  • A European study showed estrogen levels appeared to increase in Danish and Portuguese women, but not Spanish women
  • In postmenopausal women who were on hormone replacement therapy, estrogen levels increased significantly following an alcoholic drink

Bottom line, more research is needed to determine exactly what kind of alcohol and how much affects women most, and we need to identify what other factors are in play. 

How Many Alcoholic Drinks Can Women Have A Week?

Perhaps the most important thing to define here is how much is an “occasional” drink?

The general consensus is that moderate consumption is considered no more than one drink a day, or a total of 7 drinks in a week. More than 4 drinks in one day is considered binge drinking.

But here’s the catch — 1 drink may be smaller than what you think. Here are amounts considered to be a standard drink, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:

  • A serving of wine = 5 ounces 
  • A serving of liquor = 1 shot glass full (about 1.5 ounces)
  • A serving of beer = 1 bottle or can (if the beer is 5% alcohol) 

What Can I Do To Be More Mindful Of Alcohol Consumption During My Cycle?

Everyone is different, and alcohol affects everyone what affects one person may not affect someone else the same way. But it’s a great idea to keep in mind that more than one drink per day is considered excessive for most women, especially women who are seeking to keep their hormones in check.

Try replacing an alcoholic beverage with something that you enjoy just as much but doesn’t have the side effects, like sparkling water with lemon or a nice cup of hot tea. If you like to sip on handcrafted beverages in a pretty glass, you can find thousands of mocktail recipes online – some featuring newer zero proof alcohol alternatives. Often, alcohol consumption boils down to habit and perception of social benefit rather than a real desire to drink. Keeping this in mind can help you to imbibe more responsibly.

For more hormone friendly tips and tricks, I’d encourage you to download my hormone starter kit. It includes an amazing hormone-supportive meal plan and recipe guide, plus tons of information about your cycle and how to understand your hormones. Thousands of women have used this information to get their hormones in optimal condition. Click here to get your copy.

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About The Author

Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten, NMD, is one of the leading experts in women’s medicine and is a pioneer in her exploration of the far-reaching impact of hormonal birth control and the little known side effects that impact health in a large way. In her best selling book, Beyond the Pill, she shares her clinical protocols aimed at supporting women struggling with symptoms of hormone imbalance, including Post-Birth Control Pill Syndrome and birth control related side effects. A trained nutritional biochemist and Naturopathic Physician, Dr. Brighten is the founder and Clinic Director at Rubus Health, an integrative women’s medicine clinic. She is a member of the MindBodyGreen Collective and has been featured in prominent media outlets such as Forbes, Cosmopolitan, ABC news, and the New York Post. Read more about me here.