How Alcohol Affects your Hormones-image

How Alcohol Affects your Hormones

When our reproductive hormone levels are affected, it can cause menstrual cycle disruptions that can result in fertility issues. In this article, we’ll take a look at alcohol’s effects on the main female reproductive hormones.

Quick facts:

  • Alcohol can affect our hormones both directly and indirectly.
  • Drinking has been found to impact sex hormones as well as other hormones in the body.
  • The NHS recommends drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol per week. 
  • If you’re trying to conceive, it’s recommended to reduce or completely cut your alcohol consumption.

How alcohol and hormones interact

According to recent data, women and those assigned-female-at-birth are, on average, drinking more alcohol than ever before.

Whilst many people are aware of the immediate health consequences of drinking—including the caloric impact and the dreaded hangover, there’s still very limited awareness of the effects that alcohol can have on female hormonal health. 

Hormones act as chemical messengers, which control and coordinate various bodily processes. Each of our hormones relies on a complex system of interactions, often with other hormones, to maintain their levels and carry out their intended functions. 

Drinking alcohol, as well as other lifestyle factors like smoking, can affect our hormones, both directly and indirectly.

Which hormones are affected by alcohol?

Hormones affected by alcohol include:

  • Feel-good hormones, like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin
  • Stress hormones, like cortisol
  • Hormones that regulate blood sugar
  • Reproductive hormones, like oestrogen and testosterone

Our hormones are sensitive. They rely on a complex set of interactions, both with one another and other bodily processes in order to stay in balance and perform their functions properly. 

Alcohol consumption is known to affect our levels of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone significantly—three very important hormones in the regulation of the menstrual cycle and overall health.

It can also affect our levels of Anti-müllerian Hormone (AMH), gonadotropins like Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and Lutenising hormone (LH), thyroid hormones and prolactin

Let’s take a look at each of them in turn.

Oestrogen and alcohol

Oestrogen is probably the hormone you know best—it plays an important role in many elements of our health, including the regulation of the menstrual cycle, maintaining bone density and skin health.

Acute consumption of alcohol has been shown to increase oestrogen levels. 
Increased oestrogen levels over a prolonged period can be associated with breast cancer development in those assigned-female-at-birth. The United Kingdom Million Women Study revealed that every additional drink per day contributed to 11 breast cancers per 1,000 women up to age 75.

Progesterone and alcohol

Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising hormone (LH), are involved in egg maturation and ovulation, two key elements of the menstrual cycle and female fertility. A surge in your levels of LH triggers the egg to be ovulated, however, there is some evidence that alcohol consumption may affect both the levels of LH in general and the ability of the egg to respond to LH. Excessive alcohol consumption may even affect how the cells within the fallopian tubes function.

Testosterone and alcohol

Testosterone is typically associated with male sexual development and fertility, but it also plays an important role in female sexual development and fertility, including regulating female libido. 

There is some evidence that moderate alcohol consumption may increase testosterone levels, causing an imbalance in androgen levels. High testosterone levels can lead to symptoms like acne, excessive facial and body hair growth (hirsutism), irregular periods, mood changes and loss of libido.

Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) and alcohol

AMH is produced by the granulosa cells within your ovarian follicles and is used as an indicator of ovarian reserve (your egg count).

The relationship between alcohol consumption and AMH is slightly contentious. Some studies have found no change in AMH levels in people who consumed alcohol but more recent studies have shown those who engage in “binge drinking” had lower levels of AMH. 

Binge drinking is defined by the Centres for disease control (CDC) as “a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g/dl or above”. Basically, consuming 4 or more drinks in the space of 2 hours. 

Because of AMH’s close ties to your ovarian reserve, lowered AMH levels can indicate a low ovarian reserve.

Gonadotropins and alcohol

There are two types of gonadotropin hormones in the body—Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). Both FSH and LH are involved in egg maturation and ovulation, two key elements of the menstrual cycle and female fertility. 

A surge in LH levels at the midpoint of the menstrual cycle is what triggers ovulation—that month’s mature egg being released into the Fallopian tube. 

There is some evidence that suggests alcohol consumption may increase LH levels in general and also impair the ability of our eggs to respond to LH. Excessive alcohol consumption may also affect how the cells within the Fallopian tubes function.

Thyroid hormones and alcohol

Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that plays an important role in the regulation of many different bodily functions such as your heart rate, body temperature and growth development. 

Alcohol consumption has been shown to alter the levels of the thyroid hormones, thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) with heavy use showing decreased levels of T3 and T4. 
Low levels of thyroid hormones are known as hypothyroidism and can cause a huge number of symptoms including fatigue, weight gain, heavy or irregular periods, fertility issues and irregular ovulation, depression and more.

Prolactin and alcohol

Chronic alcohol consumption is associated with increased prolactin levels. Consistently high levels of prolactin in your body is called hyperprolactinemia and is significantly associated with infertility through interference with other hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone.

Alcohol and trying to conceive

When trying to conceive, cutting down on your drinking is often one of the first things on your preconception to-do list. The dangerous effects of alcohol on the developing foetus can range from physical to mental and generally disrupt their development in the womb (see foetal alcohol syndrome). 

It is also known that alcohol consumption affects the success of IVF treatment, with one study showing people who had at least four drinks per week were 16% less likely to have a live birth than those who had less than four drinks. Additionally, a 21% lower live birth rate was found for couples in which both drank more than four drinks per week.

Other effects of alcohol on the body

As well as impacting our hormones, alcohol has other broad-reaching effects on the body and the correct functioning of lots of other processes. 

Other impacts long-term drinking can have on the body include:

  • Impaired liver function
  • Digestive problems
  • Weakening of the immune system
  • Cognitive decline 
  • Suppression of adrenal gland functioning
  • Increased risk of developing alcohol-related diabetes 
  • Increased risk of certain cancers

Finding a balance between alcohol and healthy hormones

In premenopausal women, alcohol use even at a moderate level can impact the healthy balance of our hormones and subsequent reproductive effects such as failure to ovulate and irregular menstrual cycles.

When you are trying to conceive, or thinking about trying within the 3 months, the NHS recommends drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol a week regularly—that’s 6 pints of average-strength beer. 

Regularly consuming amounts of alcohol above this limit is associated with adverse health outcomes such as those we’ve spoken about in this article. It is also advised that these units are spread out, rather than bingeing one day a week. 

It’s important to remember moderation is key with most lifestyle factors. 

If you’re worried about alcohol’s effect on your hormones and fertility, or suspect you may be suffering from any symptoms mentioned in this article, our at-hormone Hormone and Fertility tests can give you in-depth insight into your hormone levels, helping you get to the bottom of any hormonal symptoms. 
You can also book a consultation with one of our Hormone & Fertility Specialists to discuss any abnormal results or discuss further if drinking may be causing you any unwanted hormonal or fertility issues.


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Ruby Relton

Ruby Relton

Ruby is a scientific researcher specialising in reproductive science and women’s health, with a BSc in Biomedical Science from the University of Strathclyde and an MSc in Reproductive Science and Women’s Health from UCL—where she received the Anne McLaren Award for academic excellence, featuring on the Dean's list of outstanding students. Ruby's research includes inequalities and diversity in reproductive health, menopause and sports gynaecology.

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