We do not think enough about cancer when we choose to consume alcohol. That is the main message stemming from a new study that provides stark truths that many of us would choose not to consider. But the best health advice, just like all good doctors’ advice, is to drink alcohol only in moderation. The new study highlights some problems with current guidelines on “sensible drinking.”
The researchers concluded that these guidelines are based on the short-term effects of consuming alcohol, such as social and psychological problems or admissions to hospital. They do not, though, look at the specific relationship between alcohol and cancer.
With the exception of breast cancer (and possibly colon cancer), an increase in cancer risk is associated directly with heavy drinking. Drinking too much is a primary risk factor for stomach cancer and liver cancer. Still, the picture here is fuzzy, because many studies have suggested that moderate drinking leads to a lower risk of all-cause death than non-drinkers.
As well, many diseases such as cancer affect older people much more than younger people. It is believed by many that cardiovascular protection and other possible benefits of low, regular doses of alcohol (less dementia, late onset diabetes, etc.) are most likely to be visible in older age groups. For adults in middle age and beyond, the positive effects of alcohol may outweigh the negative — but, again, only in moderation.
What is “moderation,” by the way? For a woman, it is considered one drink a day. For a man, it is two a day. When you exceed these, the healthy effects disappear; the further you go over those limits, the more negative consequences become a reality.
As well, smoking seems to play a role in cancer’s linked to alcohol. Smoking has big effects in digestive-related cancers and, in the absence of tobacco smoking, moderate alcohol consumption may not wield such a strong risk of cancer. One study showed that indeed increasing alcohol intake was linked to many cancers, but only in current smokers.
Data over many decades have shown that excessive or irresponsible alcohol use has severe adverse health effects, including an increase in the risk of certain cancers. On the flip side, moderate drinking is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and many other conditions. Many experimental studies have shown the protective effects of moderate alcohol consumption.
The problem is, for too many people, it is difficult to keep oneself to a glass or two. If you believe you drink more than is healthy, it is time to go beyond the old adage that you are hurting your liver, and start to consider that you are raising your cancer risk.
One phrase used in ads couldn’t be more important: Please drink responsibly.