Alcohol and PCOS: Which Drinks to Avoid and Which You Can Enjoy
Find a list of the best and worst alcoholic drinks for PCOS.
Polycystic ovary syndrome and alcohol don’t always mix.
Most of us know that drinking too much harms our health. But alcohol will also aggravate some of our worst PCOS symptoms.
If drinking alcohol is part of your lifestyle, you don't need to quit drinking immediately. You have a couple of PCOS-friendly options available to you, and we'll through the best and worst alcohol for PCOS in this post.
How Alcohol Affects PCOS and Your Health
Drinking too much alcohol can mess with your hormones, hike up your blood sugar levels, and increase inflammation. In other words, alcohol use may worsen many existing PCOS symptoms.
Living with PCOS means we often experience ovulatory dysfunction, irregular periods, and high levels of androgens (male hormones). Not only that but PCOS is also associated with insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when your body doesn’t respond properly to insulin, and it's a condition that can lead to high blood sugar levels and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
The bad news is alcohol can play a role in developing a few of these conditions. And this precisely why some experts call for a zero-alcohol approach when managing PCOS.
“...alcohol is a highly inflammatory toxin and should be avoided,” writes nutritionist and personal trainer Tara Spencer in PCOS Diet for the Newly Diagnosed.
In addition, alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing fatty liver disease, also known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Women with PCOS are already at an increased risk of developing NAFLD.
Below, we review the effects of alcohol on the PCOS body.
May affect ovulation
PCOS is associated with infertility, and some evidence suggests upping your alcohol intake will add to any reproductive problems.
According to research shared in the 2023 BMC Endocrine Disorders journal, there’s mixed evidence on the impact of alcohol on infertility. Some studies link alcohol consumption to anovulatory fertility, while others show no connection.
Of course, alcohol consumption is not the only factor that influences fertility. Other lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise, can also play a role.
Excessive consumption increases insulin resistance
Around 70% of women with PCOS are insulin resistant. And drinking too much can mess with your insulin levels.
Though, here’s where it gets interesting. One study showed some alcohol consumption may improve insulin resistance. Though, the study wasn’t PCOS specific.
However, the American Diabetes Association said only moderate consumption may offer health benefits.
“A daily cocktail or two may improve blood sugar (blood glucose) management and insulin sensitivity. If you have one or more drinks a day, you may find that your A1C is lower than during times you weren’t drinking. But if you don’t drink regularly, this doesn’t mean you should start. After all, other aspects of moderate drinkers’ lives may be behind the link.
“Too much drinking, on the other hand (more than three drinks daily), can lead to higher blood sugar and A1C."
Linked to hormone imbalance
Living with PCOS means dealing with constant hormonal imbalances. Add alcohol consumption and you could be in for even more disruption to your body’s hormones, per the Alcohol Research journal:
“In women, alcohol use can cause a multitude of reproductive disorders, such as irregular menstrual cycles, absence of ovulation (i.e., anovulation), increased risk of spontaneous abortions, and early menopause.”
Contributes to weight gain
We all know alcohol is high in calories and can play a role in weight gain. On top of that, women with PCOS often struggle with weight management. Excessive alcohol consumption can make this even more challenging.
One study said consuming alcohol led to overeating, thereby increasing the risk of weight gain.
Alcohol can decrease the body's ability to burn calories efficiently, making it more difficult to control weight. Botto line: be mindful of the amount of alcohol consumed if you're trying to lose weight.
PCOS puts you at risk for anxiety and other mental health issues.
Alcohol has also been associated with mental health challenges. According to the Mental Health Foundation alcohol consumption is frequently tied to feelings of anxiety and depression.
Too many of us know the feeling of overdoing it one night. The next day is misery and you’re suddenly questioning your life choices.
Honestly, this is one of the main reasons why I try to control my intake. I had years of having too much, putting myself in the same position the morning after. I’d endure days of crushing anxiety before drinking in excess the very next weekend. Once I cut back, my mood was instantly elevated. Beyond the mental health benefits, my sleep improved and my energy levels increased.
The Best and Worst Drinks for PCOS
When it comes to alcohol and PCOS, some drinks are better than others.
Here's a disclaimer: while I hope this article is helpful to you, it’s not a stand-in for medical advice. Seek professional help if you’re worried about how much alcohol you’re drinking or if you have any other specific concerns.
Ahead are some drinks to avoid and some that you can enjoy.
Drinks to Avoid
The worst drinks for PCOS are loaded with carbs and calories.
“Many types of alcohol are high in carbohydrates — some packing in more carbs per serving than soft drinks, sweets and desserts. For example, beer typically has a high carb content, as starch is one of its primary ingredients. It generally contains 3–12 grams of carbs per 12-ounce (355-ml) serving, depending on various factors, such as whether it’s a light or regular variety.”
Additionally, sugar and juice add to the calorie and carb content.
Steer clear of:
- Beer and other malt beverages: Beer is high in calories and can contribute to weight gain. It also contains phytoestrogens, which can disrupt hormone levels.
- Sweet cocktails and mixed drinks: These drinks are often high in sugar and calories, which can contribute to weight gain and blood sugar rises.
- Sugary wines: Wines that are high in sugar can contribute to weight gain and blood sugar rises.
Drinks You Can Enjoy
Fortunately, there are a few drinks you can enjoy within limits.
In the PCOS Plan, Nadia Brito Pateguana, a naturopathic doctor who has PCOS, said if drinking is part of your lifestyle opt for low carb wines and spirits. Angela Grassi takes it a step further in The PCOS Nutrition Cookbook, making a recommendation to avoid all alcohol, except red wine due to its high antioxidant content.
Here’s a few of the best alcohol drinks for PCOS:
- Red wine: Red wine is low in sugar and calories and contains antioxidants that can be beneficial for heart health.
- Dry white wine
- Spirits with low sugar mixers: Spirits such as vodka mixed with soda
- Light beer: Light beer is lower in calories than regular beer and can be a good option if you want to enjoy a beer.
The South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust’s recommendation for drinking with PCOS is to limit consumption.
“Alcohol is high in calories and should be kept within sensible limits. Current recommendations are no more than 14 units a week for women. For women who do drink as much as 14 units per week, this is best spread out evenly over three days or more.”
Choosing low-calorie mixtures and staying hydrated can also counter the negative effects of alcohol.
Make healthy drink choices for PCOS
Polycystic ovary syndrome can make it challenging to enjoy alcohol, but it's not impossible. By understanding the impact of alcohol on your health and choosing the right drinks, you can still enjoy a drink or two without negatively affecting your PCOS symptoms. Remember to always drink in moderation and reach out to a professional if you have any concerns.