How Alcohol Affects Your Body After 40

If one thing has been in the spotlight in recent months, it’s the amount of alcohol women are now consuming at home. A culture of wine has emerged among women who feel they “deserve” a tall glass of something at the end of a busy day or week. But these drinks add up quickly and the effect they have on health is not good.

Drinkaware conducts an annual survey that provides insight into attitudes and behaviors towards alcohol. Over the past two years, the Drinkaware Barometer has specifically explored the impact of the pandemic on drinking habits, behaviors and attitudes. The 2021 Barometer found that 54% of 35-49 year olds drank at least once a week, with 23% saying they had consumed alcohol in the past 30 days. It also found there was a higher incidence of women who said they drank more alcohol during the initial phase of lockdown at 28% compared to 22% of men.

binge drinking

Heavy drinking might seem extreme, but it happens far more often than you might think, says dietician Sarah Keogh (eatwell.ie). “When I tell people that officially binge drinking is three pints of beer or three tall glasses of wine, everyone is like ‘yes, it’s a quiet evening’. In Ireland, most of our drinking is binge drinking, but we tend to think of binge drinking as three days of back and forth.

“Of course the less you can drink the better, but if you drink alcohol ideally you should have two or maybe three small drinks and then stop and make sure you have plenty of free days. alcohol in between.”

Not understanding how much alcohol constitutes an episode of binge drinking rings true when looking at the figures associated with alcohol use disorder in Ireland. Eunan McKinney, communications and advocacy manager at Alcohol Action Ireland, says the number of people falling on the alcohol use disorder scale is shocking.

“As a nation, alcohol use disorder is prevalent in just under 15% of the total population. This corresponds to just under 580,000 people. There is a scale for mild, moderate and severe, but even at the severe end there are quite a number.

The Irish National Drugs and Alcohol Survey 2019-20 published by the Health Research Board found that 16.2% of 35-49 year olds have a prevalence of alcohol use disorders. According to the CSO, there are approximately 746,000 people in this category, which means that 120,000 people in this age group have problematic engagement with alcohol.

McKinney says that because of Ireland’s drinking culture, people who fall into the mild category rarely realize there’s a problem.

“They don’t understand at all that they are on the scales. Essentially what we have in Ireland is complete denial as to what spectrum we are on. There’s the idea that you’re an alcoholic or nothing and that’s it. Everyone is normal, but of course it’s not normal. The headline figure has always been that in Ireland 50% of all people who drink alcohol do so in harmful and dangerous ways.

Metabolism

Four wine glasses with different colors of wine

As we age, the repercussions of these late-night drinks become more evident. “We’re not necessarily more dehydrated, it’s just that as we get older we tend to forget to drink so much water and we often drink a lot more tea and coffee, which for some people is a little drying,” says Keogh. .

“Women also have less fluid in their bodies than men in general, which is why women often have worse hangovers. The liver also ages, so its ability to metabolize alcohol will change.

This 35-49 age group is also the cohort most likely to have young children and work full time, leaving little time for rest and recuperation.

Lack of sleep caused by alcohol can have adverse effects, Keogh says. “Alcohol really disrupts sleep. You don’t get your deep sleep and you’re more likely to wake up at night. As we get older we start to have trouble sleeping anyway and so alcohol only does “exacerbate that. And of course, if your sleep is disrupted, your energy levels are affected and you can eat anything up to 300 extra calories the next day.”

Perimenopause and menopause

Those extra calories are something that consultant physician and endocrinologist Dr. Mary Ryan says women over 40 need to be especially careful about.

“When you’re in perimenopause and menopause, your metabolism slows down, so you need to be more mindful of everything you eat and drink. Women don’t often think about the calories and sugar content of the alcohol they drink. We’ve seen a lot of evidence that since the Covid pandemic, women are drinking a lot more at home and are unaware of the caloric content of what they’re drinking,” says Ryan.

“During perimenopause and menopause you can gain weight around your abdomen and if you drink too much alcohol you will gain weight there too, weight in that area increases the risk of diabetes and then diabetes can in turn cause menopause, so you’ve got a vicious cycle going on.

Cancer

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about how a glass of wine benefits your health, but Keogh says that’s a myth. “This idea that a glass of wine a day is good for you because of the heart benefits of polyphenols is just a fantasy. You’ll get exactly the same benefit from eating the grapes without alcohol.

“The bad news is that the World Cancer Research Fund tells us that there is no safe level of alcohol when it comes to cancer. It recommends no alcohol consumption at all. It’s not like red meat where you can eat it three to five times a week before the risk kicks in. Alcohol-related risks increase from the first drink. Mouth cancer, breast cancer, stomach cancer and colon cancer are all linked to alcohol.

As you age, alcohol consumption can also lead to osteoporosis. “We start thinking about the long-term health of our bones in our 40s and 50s and we talk about calcium and vitamin D, but ultimately we also have to talk about limiting alcohol for bone health. “, says Keogh.

Other major health problems that alcohol can cause are circulatory disease and stroke. “Everyone thinks the liver is the main thing affected and if their liver is fine, they’re okay with alcohol, but it’s a big, big cause of stroke,” Keogh says.

Aging

If you’re in that cohort of 35 to 49 drinkers, Keogh says you’re going to see it in the mirror. “You’re going to be dehydrated, which will always make you look a bit older, but that also means the liver is working very hard to process alcohol, which means it’s not processing other toxins in the body. It needs certain vitamins and minerals to process it and if used for this they are not available to the skin.

Fertility

There are also fertility implications. For men, alcohol affects sperm quality and motility and for women it can impact the lining of the uterus. “There are so many causes of infertility that nutrition is just one of many factors,” says Keogh.

“The research is clear though, that cutting out alcohol or drastically reducing it will help.”

Social media survey

Official health research is important, but what are women saying on social media about their alcohol use. I asked a few questions on Instagram and there were over 1,000 respondents. The responses reflected much of what we already knew about the wine culture that is so prevalent now, but I also received messages from women saying they hate the idea of ​​using alcohol as a reward for hard work, and when they mention it to friends or co-workers, they are seen as dry and left out of conversations and weekend plans.

The results:

  • 66% said a Friday night drink marks the end of a long week
  • 79% said they drink once or twice a week, 19% said three or four times and only 2% said every night
  • Asked about alcohol consumption during a pandemic, 30% said they were drinking more than before, 21% said they were drinking more but had curbed it now and 49% said no, they didn’t drink anymore.
  • Wine is respondents’ favorite drink, with 79% saying it was their favorite drink, 11% choosing spirits and only 10% choosing beer.

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