PCOS and Alcohol: What to Know

Sure, you know food can affect your PCOS, but what about alcohol?

Moderate consumption of alcohol has been shown to offer health benefits: It’s associated with a decrease in the risk of heart disease for example and may even improve insulin sensitivity.

A frequent concern I hear from my patients with PCOS is that they believe alcohol isn’t good for PCOS because it contains a lot of sugar. My answer: It really depends on the type of alcohol and how much.

Unlike carbohydrates and protein, alcohol itself doesn’t require insulin to be broken down for energy. Add alcohol to sugary mixed drinks though and it will impact insulin levels. Despite the possible effect on insulin, there are other reasons why women with PCOS may want to limit their intake of alcohol. Here’s what to know.

Types of Alcohol

Wine

Wine itself comes from grapes, a source of carbohydrates. But these grapes go through a fermentation process that results in carbohydrates turning into alcohol. Moderate consumption of red wine may even boost some health benefits thanks to its rich antioxidant content. A study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that 1,500 mg daily of Resveratrol, a component of red wine, significantly lowered insulin and androgens in women with PCOS. However, you’d have to drink about 2 Liters of red wine a day to meet this amount! Yikes.

Liquor

What about vodka, gin, or rum? These types of liquor contain pure alcohol. Now if you mix them with a sugary beverage such as soda or simple sugar (hello mojito!), it does contain a source of carbs that will raise your insulin levels. Instead, choose calorie-free drink mixers like diet soda, club soda, diet tonic or water that won’t raise glucose levels.

Beer

Beer is a fermented source of gluten and a carbohydrates. Its four basic ingredients are barley, water, hops and yeast. Unlike wine or liquor, beer has more carbohydrates per serving and can impact insulin levels. 

Considerations When Drinking Alcohol

Any type of alcohol is fine in moderation. However, women with PCOS should be aware of the following factors when choosing to drink alcohol.

Can Drop Blood Sugar

Some forms of alcohol such as mixed drinks, sweet wine, or beer have the potential to raise insulin levels quickly resulting in a blood sugar crash. Alcohol can also interfere with your liver’s ability to produce glucose leading to low blood sugar levels. To prevent this from happening, drink alcohol with food (the more balanced the better). Limiting sugary mixed drinks, sweet wines, or cordials will also help.

Can Increase Hunger

Drinking too much alcohol can inhibit your ability to make wise mind food choices that are best for you at the time. Alcohol can also increase your hunger levels and lead to overeating.

Caution with Metformin

Many of my PCOS patients who take metformin find that they don’t feel good having alcohol. A very rare side effect of taking metformin is lactic acidosis which is increased with alcohol consumption. For this reason, I don’t recommend drinking alcohol while taking metformin.

The Morning After

Alcohol can cause sleep disturbances. Chances are if you drink too much the night before, it can affect your sleep and leave you groggy the next day. This could affect your workout routine and your food choices the following day. Ever wake up the next morning ravenous? It could be that your blood sugar dipped to low overnight. Have a plan to have a good breakfast the next day.

Dangerous if Fatty Liver

Many women with PCOS also suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. While this condition isn’t caused by drinking alcohol, but rather high insulin and triglycerides, regular intake of alcohol can make it worse. Both drugs and alcohol pass through the liver, increasing its demand. If you have fatty liver already, drinking alcohol can make it worse.

Can Affect Fertility

If you’re trying to conceive, frequent alcohol use can affect fertility and make it harder to get pregnant. One study showed that women who drank more than 14 servings of alcohol a week had an 18% decreased chance of conceiving.

What’s Moderation?

If you have PCOS and enjoy drinking alcohol, do so in moderation. A moderate amount of alcohol is one alcoholic drink or less for women and two or less for men. An alcoholic drink is 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.

Looking for an alternative beverage that can actually improve your PCOS? Give one of these a try!

Takeaways

If you are going to drink, don’t do so on an empty stomach

Drink alcohol with a balanced meal

Avoid drinking alcohol if you have fatty liver, take metformin, or other medications or medical problems

Avoid sugary mixed drinks that can quickly raise glucose and insulin levels

Keep water on hand to stay hydrated

Drink in moderation and enjoy!

Cheers!

Sources

  1. Beata Banaszewska et al. Effects of Resveratrol on Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Trial. J ClinEndocrinol Metab 2016;101: 3575–3581.
  2. Alcohol consumption and fecundability: prospective Danish cohort study, Ellen M Mikkelsen et al., The BMJ, doi: 10.1136/bmj.i4262, published online 31 August 2016.

angela grassi PCOS dietiitian nutritionistAngela Grassi, MS, RDN, LDN is the founder of The PCOS Nutrition Center where she provides evidence-based nutrition information and coaching to women with PCOS. Angela is the author of several books on PCOS including PCOS: The Dietitian’s Guide, The PCOS Workbook: Your Guide to Complete Physical and Emotional Health, and The PCOS Nutrition Center Cookbook Recognized by Today’s Dietitian as one of the Top 10 Incredible Dietitian’s making a difference, Angela is the past recipient for The Outstanding Nutrition Entrepreneur Award, The Award in Excellence in Practice in Women’s Health and The Award for Excellence in Graduate Research, from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Having PCOS herself, Angela has been dedicated to advocacy, education, and research of the syndrome. To learn more about one-on-one nutrition coaching or to schedule a call with Angela, click here

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