Top things to know:
Having a few drinks over the holidays (or in moderation any other time) probably won’t affect your cycle
People may drink more before their period
People who chronically consume excessive amounts of alcohol can develop cycle irregularities or amenorrhea
Any person at the office holiday party can attest: alcohol can definitely affect your body, both in the moment, and potentially the next morning. From reduced inhibitions, to distortions of reality, to a hangover that makes you regret every choice you’ve made in the last 24 hours—alcohol can have an impact on your mind and body, including your menstrual cycle. In moderation, alcohol probably won’t affect your menstrual cycle, but there is a lot of conflicting research. Let’s dive into it:
Will having a few drinks throw off my cycle?
Research (as usual) is conflicting here and there is no clear answer. Some studies note relationships between alcohol consumption and cycle irregularities, but generally only when alcohol is consumed chronically at high doses (1–3). When looking at moderate drinking, there may be no measurable change in menstrual cycle function (4). In fact, in one study, people who abstained from alcohol had more cycle irregularities (5).So, if you drink alcohol in moderation over this holiday season it probably won’t throw your menstrual cycle out of order.Women who consume chronic amounts of alcohol, however, may experience many different types of menstrual disorders, including amenorrhea (not getting a period for 3 months or more), irregular cycle lengths, and anovulation (ovulation does not happen within the menstrual cycle)(1–3,5).
Your cycle may influence how much alcohol you drink
There is some evidence suggesting alcohol consumed in your luteal phase (the second half of your menstrual cycle) may have more of an effect on your mood, than during the follicular phase, by both increasing feelings of depression and anxiety, while at the same time increasing feelings of enjoyment from the effects of alcohol (6). Researchers suspect that people who experience symptoms of premenstrual syndrome may tend to drink more alcohol premenstrually (6,7). However, other studies note no change at all (7,8). More research is needed.
Alcohol and hormones
Drinking alcohol affects the body’s hormone levels. After drinking, multiple studies have measured increases in estrogen levels, and sometimes increases in testosterone and luteinizing hormone (LH) (4,5,9,10). One particularly rigorous study examined how drinking affects hormone levels during different phases of the menstrual cycle (10). Multiple hormonal differences were measured, such as increases in androgen levels during the follicular phase, and increases in estrogen levels around ovulation, which persisted throughout the second half of the cycle (10). This effect has been shown to be stronger after binge drinking (4). However, the hormonal effects of moderate drinking did not to lead to changes in menstrual cycle function (4,10).
Alcoholic hepatitis and liver cirrhosis are associated with binge drinking, chronic heavy alcohol consumption, and female biology—could this be due to our hormones (11,12)? New preliminary research on mice suggests that when higher levels of estrogen are present, there is more activity in the reward centre of the brain, which may make alcohol feel more rewarding (13).There is also some evidence to suggest that drinking low to moderate amounts of alcohol may be associated with delayed menopause, but more research is needed here too (9,14,15).
Can alcohol affect your fertility?
A recent study suggests that there could be a weak association between low to moderate alcohol drinking and decreases in fertility (16). Other researchers have linked higher alcohol consumption to infertility, and some found no connection between alcohol and fertility at all (3,5). One reason for how alcohol could impact fertility is through increased levels of estrogen, which could inhibit follicular development and ovulation—but this is still only a theory (17). Although there are many different studies researching the effects of alcohol, it’s difficult to draw hard conclusions on how or if alcohol affects your cycle. A couple of drinks this holiday season likely won’t cause any menstrual irregularities. But, be conscious if you’re in your luteal phase, as you may drink more than usual.