Everything You Need to Know About Alcohol and PCOS
Updated June 8th, 2022
When you are diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), one of the first things your doctor tells you is that you need to change your diet and lifestyle.
It can be a bit of a shock to hear about the changes you need to make…
And then your doctor advises you to cut back on your alcohol intake – and your first thought is that you can’t possibly give up your Friday nights out with your friends.
The good news is that you don’t have to, but here’s what you need to know about alcohol and PCOS and I share my favorite summer mocktail recipe too!
Alcohol and PCOS
1. Leads to High Blood Sugar Levels
Whether you choose beer, wine, or any type of cocktail, the outcome is the same – a massive spike in your blood sugar levels. Since PCOS is closely linked to insulin resistance, a rise in blood sugar levels will trigger an increase in insulin production.
However, your body is unable to use this insulin effectively which means that your blood sugar levels remain elevated which alters your hormone balance, worsening your PCOS symptoms and can cause organ damage over time.
Furthermore, high sugar levels also increase the risk of obesity in women with PCOS, further worsening symptoms.
2. Aggravates Hormonal Imbalance
PCOS interferes with the natural ovulation cycle. This lack of ovulation results in elevated levels of estrogen along with low levels of progesterone.
Studies show that alcohol consumption increases estrogen levels and decreases progesterone levels. Therefore drinking, especially heavy drinking, can aggravate your hormonal imbalance and increase the severity of your PCOS symptoms.
3. Increases the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
PCOS increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases due to abnormal hormonal patterns that affect vascular smooth muscle cells.
These hormonal imbalances also lead to low-grade systemic inflammation which in turn increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Studies show that alcohol has similar effects on cardiovascular function so women who have PCOS will have a much higher risk of cardiovascular disease if they consume alcohol regularly, or even binge drink occasionally.
4. Increases the Risk of Liver Diseases
Women with PCOS have double the risk of liver disease due to insulin resistance and hyperandrogenism which cause liver damage. The link between alcohol and liver disease is well established but more recent studies have found that women are at a higher risk than men.
Furthermore, even intermittent binge drinking can significantly increase a woman’s risk of liver disease. This means that if you have PCOS, drinking heavily or even moderately on weekends can increase your risk of liver disease.
5. Increases the Risk of Depression
Researchers found that women who suffer from PCOS are more likely to experience anxiety and depression. Recent studies found that hormonal imbalances are the root cause of this problem. Regular alcohol intake has a similar effect as it increases the risk of depression which means that women with PCOS are much more likely to experience depression if they consume alcohol on a regular basis.
6. Increases the Risk of Addiction
Preliminary tests show that alcohol is much more rewarding when estrogen levels are higher. Therefore, women are more likely to overindulge in the days just before ovulation (approximately 14 days from the first day of a period) which is when estrogen levels are at their highest.
Since women with PCOS have elevated levels of estrogen, they might be at a higher risk of alcohol addiction as compared to other women.
Lifestyle and diet are the first line of defense for managing PCOS. Supplements are also important.
To help you learn which supplements are right for your unique needs, I created a comprehensive PCOS Supplement Guide that you can download by clicking on the image below.
How to Enjoy Your Girls’ Night Out
You’re probably wondering at this point if you need to become a teetotaler because of your PCOS – the good news is that you probably don’t need to completely give up alcohol.
First, have an open and honest conversation with your doctor about how much you can drink based on your PCOS symptoms.
Then, ask yourself why alcohol is necessary for your social interactions.
Here are a few tips to help you enjoy your evening out without jeopardizing your health.
Snack Before You Leave the House
When you drink on an empty stomach, the alcohol passes through your empty stomach into the small intestine where it is quickly absorbed into your bloodstream. Therefore, it is dangerous to drink on an empty belly.
Know Your Limits and Pace Yourself
The more drinks you consume, the worse your decision processing gets. It’s easy to lose track of how many drinks you’ve had over the course of an evening and, as a result, make irresponsible food and alcohol choices.
Make a conscious effort to know exactly how many drinks you consume. Start your evening with a non-alcoholic beverage. After that, you can move on to an alcoholic beverage. Whenever possible, choose low-sugar cocktails and ciders. Ideally, stick to seltzer with lime or juice all night!
Substitute with a Mocktail Recipe
Lots of cocktails involve a vinegar shrub. Typically a shrub is a concentrated syrup that combines fruit, sugar, and vinegar. This sweet, acidic mixer is used in various mixed drinks but makes a refreshing low sugar mocktail.
I skip the step of making the homemade shrub and use white balsamic flavored vinegar. My favorite vinegar shop – The Sassy Olive in Ogunquit, ME has some fun white balsamic vinegar flavors like coconut, pineapple, apricot, green apple, and peach. I like to muddle some mint in the bottom of a mule mug and a tablespoon of white balsamic and fill the mug with sparkling water and garnish with some fresh fruit. It feels like a festive summer cocktail without the alcohol. The nutrition facts for these flavored vinegars are very PCOS friendly too: only 10 calories per tablespoon and 3 grams of sugar.
Summer Shrub Recipe
1 tablespoon flavored white balsamic vinegar
1 cup of sparkling mineral water
Pour over ice and add fruit and mint to garnish
Avoid Sodas (Even Diet)
A single can of soda contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar, so it would be wise to just avoid sodas as they will wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels. Most mixers have high sugar content, so it would be better to simply use water or carbonated water instead.
Try a Low Sugar Wine
Sometimes you just need to indulge in a full-on dietary departure. Other times, you can modify an indulgence to make it more PCOS Diva diet friendly. Recently, I have discovered wine with lower levels of sugar. Since blood sugar balance is central to feeling good with PCOS, this was a game-changer. I enjoy Dry Farm Wines.
It is imperative that you discuss all lifestyle and diet changes with your doctor before you implement them. Your doctor will be able to guide you on which drinks are safe for you and which ones you need to avoid based on your medical history.
Every woman with PCOS experiences unique symptoms: from insulin resistance, weight gain, and infertility to acne, fatigue, and irregular menstrual cycles. You don’t have to feel hopeless and struggle alone any longer.
Get the support you need to heal PCOS naturally with PCOS Diva Jumpstart
Amy Medling, best-selling author of Healing PCOS and certified health coach, specializes in working with women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), who are frustrated and have lost all hope when the only solution their doctors offer is to lose weight, take a pill, and live with their symptoms. In response, Amy founded PCOS Diva and developed a proven protocol of supplements, diet, and lifestyle programs that offer women tools to help gain control of their PCOS and regain their fertility, femininity, health, and happiness.