My job is to support you to feel the best that you can, to guide you towards achieving your health goals. Now, food is the focus of what I do, but sometimes good health, mental and physical, can be about what we need to work on leaving out, too.
I’m talking about alcohol.
I’ll be honest. I don’t drink much or very often. I love a good glass of red with steak, or when I’m out with friends, but booze generally makes me feel like crap, so I tend not to bother. Some clients dig their heels in when it comes to their wine or Prosecco. They need it, they’ll tell me. I don’t underestimate the strength of this feeling. Women in their 40s and 50s are likely experiencing greater stress than ever before – menopause, ageing parents, raising children, working and all this whilst attempting to look after themselves. You deserve a drink at the end of a long day, right? I understand the defensiveness, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you why, if you drink more than one glass every or most nights, your health might suffer.
Might alcohol play a part in your anxiety or depression?
Women around menopause are particularly prone to anxiety and depression. There may be many reasons for this, but one is roller-coaster hormonal shifts. So, to take the edge of your edginess you have a glass of something. Except that alcohol is a depressant, so you’ll feel better for a bit, but just a drink a day for some women is enough to increase anxiety without them making the connection.
Alcohol disrupts sleep. If you’re menopausal, this may be even more so. If you suffer from hot flushes and night sweats, alcohol may be a contributing factor. That said, this is largely anecdotal so observe your own body’s reaction.
This is a biggie. There are lots of statistics regarding alcohol and cancer. The cancer charities don’t mince their words on this. “Alcohol causes cancer.” “Alcohol increases your risk of getting 7 different types of cancer.” Specific to women, “Your risk of breast cancer increases if you drink just one alcoholic drink a day.”
Are there any health benefits to drinking?
This is the latest advice from The Drinkaware Trust, an independent UK-wide alcohol education charity.
· A review of evidence carried out on behalf of the UK’s Chief Medical Officers in 2016 concluded that women over 55 are the only group that may experience some overall protective effect from drinking a small amount of alcohol (around 5 units per week.)
· For anyone drinking above the low-risk drinking guidelines, alcohol’s possible benefits on the heart are outweighed by other health risks, including acute harms and other very serious illnesses, such as liver disease and cancer. The potential benefit would also only occur if your 14 units are spaced out during the week – consuming heavily in one session can cause a heart attack.
· So, any potential benefits on the heart depend both on your overall consumption and your general pattern of drinking (how much and how often).
OK, so how much can you drink?
It gets a bit murky here. I took a dive into guidelines internationally and they vary wildly. What some countries consider ‘safe’ is way above what other countries recommend. And how often you drink is important – you’re better off drinking over a number of days, but with a few alcohol-free days a week, rather than bingeing and drinking your ‘allowance’ in one night. In the UK, the recommendation is no more than 14 units a week, which equals about 6 medium glasses of 14% ABV wine. BUT the authors of a major international study on alcohol intake published last year in The Lancet stated that they considered there to be “no safe level of alcohol consumption.”
If you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, avoid alcohol. Again, this advice differs internationally, and the UK have jumped back and forth on this in recent years, but current NHS advice is not to drink.
It makes even a sober head spin a bit doesn’t it? From my perspective as a nutritional therapist, my focus is taking a step back and looking at your lifestyle, your diet and how much you drink. Let’s get some perspective and some context. Is it the odd glass? More than that? Why do you drink? Are you drinking alone, unhappy? Or having a drink and laughing in the company of loved ones and eating a fabulous meal? What do you eat day to day? All these factors combine to create a picture of your health and well-being. There’s no one size fits all. Is it better if you didn’t drink much at all, if at all? Sorry, but based on everything I know, I’d say yes.
That said, there is no judgement and if you are finding that you want to drink a few glasses of wine at the end of the day once the kids are in bed and that’s sacrosanct, there are ways to approach that. You might consider having wine every other night, or one glass not two, but also explore other ways to mark those hours when the small people are tucked up. What about treat-replacement? That could just be a magazine and a soak in the tub with a beautiful bath oil, or how about taking 10 minutes lying on your bed listening to Calm or Headspace. You may feel you need the booze less once you’ve relaxed in another way. Or is it the routine of pouring a drink once you’ve said “Goodnight”, that you love? I’m told the alcohol-free “gin” G&T is a pretty good swap.
There isn’t an easy answer.
So much of motherhood is about giving of yourself. Giving back to ourselves is important and often overlooked. That glass you pour at the end of the day, especially when it’s been a tough one, may feel like what you deserve. However, if it becomes so entrenched in your daily routine that it’s the only way for you to decompress, it may be doing you harm, and you do not deserve that.