Gin – Is it Really Bad for You?
I am asked often about gin and whether it is worse for you than other types of alcohol or not. Sometimes this question comes my way at parties, other times it comes my way after a friend has purchased a Costco sized jug of Bombay Sapphire and is calling me to defend their purchase to their roommates. The question came my way again this week through my “Ask Jessica” service (which has been a great success, thank you all!). I thought I’d post the response here for all of you to enjoy also – then maybe my friends will start calling YOU instead of me after a Costco liquor spree!
Q: Is it true that gin is bad for your lady parts?
A: I really had to break out the chemistry research to answer this question! There are many, many varying opinions out there on gin – some say it is just an alcohol that is no more harmful than vodka while others say it is the worst type of alcohol to ingest.
In looking at the science behind the question, I found that while gin is (obviously) a type of hard liquor that contains ethanol and is therefore not good in general for “lady parts”, the fact that it is distilled from juniper berries (among other plant compounds) may be the reason it has gained the reputation for being bad for fertility. Juniper berries have been used for centuries as a traditional remedy most commonly indicated for kidney ailments. Intake of juniper berry extracts, however, is strongly contraindicated during pregnancy or for those who are looking to get pregnant. The fact that gin is distilled from juniper and is rich in “terpenes” (an active ingredient in juniper berries as well as other compounds in gin and also what gives gin its unique flavor) is probably why it has been linked to female reproductive problems.
In combing through the research surrounding juniper berry and terpenes, I found the following information):
- Juniper berry extracts, particularly terpenes, increase uterine tone (meaning they make the muscles of the uterus contract), which may lead to loss of pregnancy or in someone who is not already pregnant, may make it more difficult for an embryo to implant. This quality alone is what probably gives gin martinis the right to bear the catchy nickname of “infertilitinis”.
- One study I found reported that when juniper berry extract was fed to rats (I did not read the entire study to see exactly how much was fed, though it was probably a very large amount), it was 60-70% effective at keeping those rats from becoming pregnant by not allowing embryos to implant. Another rat study also found that large amounts of gin caused pregnant rats to miscarry. The reason scientists study rats so much is that their biochemistry is very similar to humans, so these rat studies do apply.
- Another study also showed that juniper extract has the ability to affect production of certain types of estrogen (the study I read highlighted estradiol, a potent estrogen that encourages cells to divide), which was found to be helpful in some ways for estrogen receptor positive breast cancer cells but may not be helpful for “lady parts” in general. Estrogen levels are also not a good thing to tamper with during pregnancy or the pre-conception period.
The bottom line is that gin is alcohol, which should be avoided anyway during pregnancy or when a woman is trying to get pregnant. The presence of juniper berry and terpenes would make it even more important to avoid gin during this period. But, in moderation (1-2 drinks containing gin per week), I did not find any research that indicated that non-pregnant lady parts would be affected in the long run. However, using scientific reasoning and the fact that gin may cause contraction of the uterus, a woman who suffers from strong uterine cramps around the time of her menstrual period and who also drinks gin may want to stop doing so and see if the cramps subside.
Here are some references for studies, should you be the scientific type who would like to look more into the subject:
- Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD, eds. Herbal Medicines: a Guide for Health-Care Professionals . London, England: The Pharmaceutical Press; 1996.
- Ernst E. Herbal medicinal products during pregnancy: are they safe? BJOG . 2002;109:227-235.
- Agrawal OP, et al. Planta Medica 1980;SUPPL:98-101.
- Prakash AO, et al. ACTA Europaea Fertilitatis. 1985;16(6):441-448.
- Prakash AO. International Journal of Crude Drug Research 1986;24(Mar):16-24.
- David T. Zava, PhD et al. Estrogen and Progestin Bioactivity of Foods, Herbs, and Spices; Aeron Biotechnology, San Leandro, California 94577; and Cancer Research Division, California Public Health Foundation, Berkeley, California.
And should you be the SUPER scientific nerdy type (which I know you are), Nature.com offers a bunch of structural drawings of terpenes for your enjoyment.