Study: Moderate Alcohol Consumption Substantially Increases Cancer Risk
Sorry to strip your buzz, but a new study links moderate alcohol consumption to cancer risk, and the new review says it only takes one to two drinks a day to "substantially" raise your risk of several types of cancer, from breast to colon, over a ten year period. The side effects of alcohol have been known but it was once believed that you had to drink heavily for alcohol to impact your cancer risk, but this new study finds a much lower level of drinking is a risk factor.
The study looked at lifetime abstention and 2010 alcohol consumption estimates from the Global Information System on Alcohol and Health (assuming a 10-year latency period between alcohol consumption and cancer diagnosis. The researchers found that even light to moderate drinkers (defined as 2 drinks a day) have elevated risks of several cancers including breast cancer, colon cancer, oral cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, among others.
Moderate drinkers account for 1 in 7 of all new cancers in 2020 and more than 100,000 cases worldwide. Globally, alcohol contributed to 6.3 million cancer cases and 3.3 million deaths globally in 2020.
The study was conducted by the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and published in The Lancet Oncology, and is the first to link moderate or light drinking to cancer (other studies have tied heavy drinking to higher cancer incidence).
"All drinking involves risk, and with alcohol-related cancers, all levels of consumption are associated with some risk," explained the study's co-author, Dr. Jürgen Rehm, Senior Scientist at the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research and Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute at CAMH. "For example, each standard-sized glass of wine per day is associated with a 6 percent higher risk for developing female breast cancer."
"We are seeing many people who report increased alcohol use since the onset of the pandemic," said Dr. Leslie Buckley, CAMH Chief of Addictions. as quoted in Science Daily. Although this may be related to temporary stressors, there is a potential for new habits to become more permanent. The consequences with alcohol use are often subtle harms initially that take time to show themselves, while long-term consequences such as cancer, liver disease, and substance use disorder can be devastating."
“Alcohol is a toxin, and in our polluted world, we are all carrying a toxic burden far higher and heavier than what we would be carrying 200 years ago,” says Dr. Stacie Stephenson, aka “The VibrantDoc”, Chair of Functional Medicine at Cancer Treatment Centers of America and Vice-Chair of Gateway for Cancer Research.
“We would all be less susceptible to cancer if we decrease our toxic intake in general (avoiding pollutants, eating organic food, using more natural cleaners and personal hygiene products),” she adds, “and support our body’s natural detoxification processes with regular exercise, a vegetable-rich diet (especially detoxifying cruciferous vegetables), plenty of water and fiber to avoid constipation, and good quality, sufficient sleep, so our brains can have time to purge waste.”
Study Explores How Alcohol Causes Cancer
In the WHO study published in The Lancet, the co-author of that study, Dr. Kevin Shield, an Independent Scientist at the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research,.explains this: "Alcohol causes cancer in numerous ways."
The main mechanism of how alcohol causes cancer is through impairing DNA repair, he adds. "Additional pathways include chronic alcohol consumption resulting in liver cirrhosis, and alcohol leading to a dysregulation of sex hormones, leading to breast cancer. Alcohol also increases the risk of head and neck cancer for smokers as it increases the absorption of carcinogens from tobacco."
New Findings link wine consumption and breast cancer risk
In a study that looked at 92 foods and drinks that reviewed dietary habits of 272,098 women participating in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study, six foods and nutrients were identified as associated with risk of breast cancer (there were 10,979 cases in all).
The study found: "Higher intake of alcohol overall was associated with a higher risk of breast cancer," and for each incremental serving the risk went up. Meanwhile, the opposite is true of fiber in the diet: The higher intakes of apples. pears and other high-fiber foods had an inverse effect on cancer risk, so the more fiber you eat, the lower your breast cancer risk.
The authors wrote: "Our findings confirm a positive association of alcohol consumption and suggest an inverse association of dietary fiber and possibly fruit intake with breast cancer risk." The statistics are astounding: "Globally, about 741 000, or 4.1 percent, of all new cases of cancer in 2020 were attributable to alcohol consumption. About three-quarters of alcohol-attributable cancer cases were in males, and the cancer sites contributing the most attributable cases were oesophageal, liver, and breast (in females)."
As alcohol consumption has gone up, so have cancer cases related to drinking
From the study: "Previous estimates of the contribution of alcohol to the burden of cancer have been published, but patterns of alcohol consumption continue to change over time across world regions. Alcohol consumption per capita has decreased in many European countries, especially those in eastern Europe, whereas alcohol use is on the rise in Asian countries, such as China, India, and Vietnam, and in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa," the authors noted.
"With these changes in alcohol consumption," the authors explained, "and more recent cancer incidence data, new estimates of the alcohol-attributable burden of cancer are warranted."
In the EPIC study, six types of foods and ingredients were studied. Alcohol and wine raised the risk of breast cancer while beer and cider did not. In some positive news, fiber was found to help reduce the risk of breast cancer. Previous studies have also reported that fiber helps lower risk of breast cancer. InAll foods that contained fiber lowered breast cancer risk, with no differences between different vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, or whole grains.
Bottom Line: One to two glasses of alcohol a day, including wine, increases your risk of several types of cancer including breast cancer, colon cancer, and liver cancer. Rather than forgo all alcohol, drink less often, and mitigate your risk by adding more fiber-filled fruits and vegetables to your diet.
If you’re looking for more ways to incorporate a healthy, plant-based diet into your day-to-day life, check out our Health & Nutrition articles.