Most people know that alcohol isn’t good for them. However, many people don’t know that alcohol has some seriously dirty secrets. When it comes to addiction, alcohol is already well-known to be one of the worst drugs out there. What is less known, is that it can have a profoundly negative effect on women compared to men. In this post, we will outline some of the major challenges alcohol poses to women’s health and their risk of addiction.
Alcohol and gender differences
Interestingly, men are generally known to contain additional body water to women. This might not seem like an important issue, but when it comes to alcohol consumption, this difference can have a big impact. This is because of how alcohol works in the body. For example, alcohol is hydrophilic. This means it dissolves easily in water. Because women have less water in their bodies than men, their blood to alcohol level will be higher than men when drinking the same amount of alcohol.
Another factor at play is an enzyme called ‘dehydrogenase’. Found in both the liver and the stomach, this enzyme is what the body uses to break down alcohol in the body. In women, this enzyme is less active than it is for men. As a result, alcohol is more toxic to women’s bodies than for men drinking the same amount. This higher toxicity means more damage is caused to women’s organs.
What are the health consequences of these differences?
Whilst these biological differences may seem small, they have a series of knock-on effects when it comes to health. Here, we outline 5 of the major consequences of alcohol’s dirty secret for women’s health:
- Compromised reproductive system
When women drink too much alcohol, their menstrual cycle can change and may become more unpredictable. The reproductive system is also compromised in other ways. For example, research shows that excessive alcohol consumption increases the probability of becoming sterile (men can also become infertile). Miscarriages also become more likely for women who have a history of heavy drinking.
- Increased risk of cancer
A study for Oxford University found that women have a heightened risk of developing breast cancer with every additional drink of alcohol consumed daily. The chances of developing cancers of the liver, bowel, mouth, gullet, and voice box were also increased.
- Weight gain
Weight gain is an issue with alcohol for both men and women. However, it is made worse for women again because of the enzyme. This is because when you consume alcohol your body stops burning as much fat. It does this to try and process the alcohol and get it out of your system. As there are as many calories in 2 large glasses of wine as you’d find in a burger, it is easy to see how the less active enzyme causes more of an issue for women here.
- General health & appearance
Excessive alcohol consumption can affect your appearance and general health and well-being. Spots, rough sleep, and tired eyes are common issues from excessive alcohol consumption. It can also make you look older as it has an aging effect on the skin. This is due to alcohol’s dehydrating effects, which are also worse for women due to their lower levels of body water.
- Challenges associated with aging
As we get older it gets even harder to break down alcohol. Women are also more likely to put on weight as they get older as a result of the menopause. Combined with a heightened risk of osteoporosis, this can increase the risk of falls and broken bones as women age if they continue to drink excessively. Women are also more likely to become addicted later in life. Moreover, they tend to drink excessively more rapidly than men, with the addiction getting worse at a faster rate.
If you are surprised and concerned by the dirty secrets of alcohol when it comes to women’s health, then it is important to seek support. If you are worried about a loved one, educating them about the different effects on women and men can also be important. Understanding the different effects of alcohol on women’s health is important for anyone seeking to provide or recover with treatment.