You May Be More Prone To Hangovers At This Point In Your Menstrual Cycle
If you've ever suffered the ravages of an intense hangover and thought, "What the hell? I hardly drank anything," then keep reading.
The painful inspiration for this piece came about a month ago. After indulging in a mere two and a half glasses of wine on a Friday evening—along with plenty of food and water, I might add—I was met with a dreaded hangover come Saturday morning. My eye sockets and cheekbones ached, my head was pounding, and, soon enough, I was experiencing the dreaded, wave-like "I'm definitely going to throw up" sensation. (Thankfully, I did not.)
The punishment did not seem to fit the crime—after all, I'd gotten away with (probably unwisely) consuming much more alcohol in the past with minimal ill effects. So where did this seemingly random, head-splitting hangover come from? When I thought about it more critically, I recalled a handful of instances since my mid-20s in which something similar had happened. Two beers? Hangover. One strong margarita? Hangover. Half a glass of red wine? Hangover.
And then it hit me: Maybe my potential for experiencing a hangover all depends on where I am in my menstrual cycle. Unfortunately, I hadn't been tracking this phenomenon long, so I only really had "data" from my last experience—which took place about five days before my last period. So, I decided to pick the brain of women's health and hormone expert Jolene Brighten, NMD, to see if there was any merit to my theory. (Spoiler: There just might be.)
So, does your tolerance to alcohol change based on where you are in your cycle?
First off, there isn't much scientific data to support this theory—simply because the research hasn't been conducted—but, according to Brighten, many women commonly report this phenomenon during a specific point in their cycle. "It seems that women may be more susceptible to the effects of alcohol in the late luteal phase, so the week before your period," she says. The second half of the luteal phase is also when many women experience PMS symptoms such as cravings, anxiety, headaches, and bloating. (This happens to be exactly when my hangover from hell took place.)
But why exactly does this happen? I personally suspected it had something to do with fluctuating hormone levels. And some articles I came across made similar claims, with experts saying that when estrogen levels are higher and progesterone is lower, more acetaldehyde—a by-product of alcohol metabolism that contributes to hangover symptoms—remains in the body after alcohol consumption.
When I asked Brighten, she agreed there may be something to this idea, adding that "the liver has to process estrogen, and it's possible that in states of estrogen dominance—which is often pronounced the week before your period—the increased burden of alcohol and estrogen together on the liver could cause issues. Excess estrogen gives women headaches, causes water retention and bloating, and can be inflammatory. If you add alcohol to the mix, this can make all of these issues worse." Additionally, she says, "blood sugar imbalances that accompany the luteal phase may lead to an increase in hangovers and a lower tolerance of alcohol for some women."
Important to note, however, is that research shows1 some women actually have an increased desire to consume alcohol during the luteal phase—which could be due to a number of factors, from hormonal shifts to a desire to manage the psychological symptoms of PMS. This doesn't mean that these women don't experience hangovers, though.
Is there any way to make hangovers during this time period less severe?
Of course, all of this raises the question: If you're possibly more likely to get a killer hangover the week before your period starts, is there anything you can do to counter it, or should you simply scale way back on your booze intake at this time?
First, Brighten cautions, "we need to be mindful as women that alcohol has a major impact on our risk of chronic illness and cancer. One serving of alcohol can increase your estrogen levels by about 10%. Plus, alcohol is perceived as a toxin by your body, which means your body will put its efforts into eliminating that, which may be at the expense of your hormones." All of which is to say, for overall health and hormonal balance, you never really want to overdo it on the booze.
But it's not unreasonable to imbibe from time to time. So if you're planning a dinner or happy hour with friends that happens to fall on your late luteal phase—and a mocktail just doesn't sound appealing—make sure you eat enough and stay properly hydrated, says Brighten. You can also consider bringing in some supportive supplements, "like a B-complex vitamin, magnesium, and N-acetyl cysteine to support your body in processing the alcohol."
You can also lighten the overall burden on your liver by eating gut-friendly foods, exercising regularly, reducing your exposure to chemicals, among other lifestyle changes. This doesn't mean you'll avoid a hangover, but it may help your liver do its job (which includes processing alcohol) more efficiently.
Of course, this decision to drink or not (and how much) also depends on just how severe your hangovers tend to be during this time. If they're completely debilitating, you may simply want to forgo alcohol during your pre-period week. Personally, I'll probably be avoiding it completely, or at least pregaming with plenty of good old H20.
Bottom line: Tune into your body.
Remember, research still needs to corroborate much of this. While it may be true that hangovers are more severe during the late luteal phase for many women, other women may potentially experience worsened symptoms while they're menstruating or ovulating. Bottom line: Track your symptoms, make note of patterns, and adjust your behavior accordingly.
Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and editor who has been working for leading health publications for the past 10 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition. In addition to contributing to mindbodygreen, she has written for Women's Health, Prevention, and Health. She is also a certified holistic health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She has a passion for natural, toxin-free living, particularly when it comes to managing issues like anxiety and chronic Lyme disease (read about how she personally overcame Lyme disease here).