Tipping back another drink may feel good at the moment. Still, the long-range implications – outside the band cranked to 11 in your head the following day – may include an increased risk of cancer. Alcohol use has been linked to several types of cancer including breast, colorectal, esophagus, liver, mouth, throat, and voice box.
Furthermore, suppose you’re pulling a drag off a cigarette or puffing a stogie. In that case, epidemiologic research shows using alcohol and tobacco increases the risk of cancers of the esophagus, oral cavity, throat, and voice box.
Now, you’re probably asking, ‘How does alcohol increase the risk of cancer?’ Researchers believe there are several risk factors:
- A large body of experimental evidence shows the body breaks down the ethanol in alcohol to acetaldehyde. This probable human carcinogen can damage DNA and proteins.
- Alcohol can bring about chemically reactive molecules (oxidation) that can damage DNA, proteins, and fats.
- Alcohol can impair the body’s ability to absorb nutrients associated with cancer risk – Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, carotenoids, and folate.
- Alcohol increases estrogen, which has been linked to the risk of breast cancer.
- Also, during the fermentation and production of alcohol, contaminants (asbestos fibers, hydrocarbons, nitrosamines, and phenols) may be introduced to the product.
So, what’s in alcohol that makes it a possible cancer influencer? Whether beers, liquors, or wines, ethanol is in alcoholic drinks. A standard drink contains about half an ounce of ethanol, a natural byproduct of plant fermentation.
Because it dissolves in water, ethanol is used in various products, from beauty products and personal care to fuel, paints, and varnishes. Ethanol is also used in foods – candies and brandied fruits with alcoholic fillings – and grandma’s fruit cake or plum pudding if distilled spirits are used for flavoring.
However, there is evidence that up to two alcoholic drinks a day decreases kidney cancer risk.
How to lower the risk of alcohol-related cancers
The key is moderation, and there are things you can do to lower the risk of alcohol-related cancers
- Men, no more than two drinks each day; women, limit it to one glass. (A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.)
- Do not drink heavily (binge drink).
- There is no exception for red wine.
- Avoid using alcohol and tobacco products.
- Eat plenty of leafy, green veggies, fruits, and dried beans; they contain folate, which may lower the risk of cancers linked to alcohol.
- Combined with alcohol, menopausal hormone therapies may increase breast cancer risk; talk with your doctor.
Wait – there’s not an exception for red wine? I thought the crushed grapes could be beneficial. … If you’re hoping to protect your heart health with red wine, find another way. Studies do suggest compounds in red wine offer cardiovascular benefits, but those advantages do not outweigh the cancer risk.
Research notes the risk for alcohol-related cancers declines after you stop drinking. While it may take years to eliminate the threat, quitting is the first step to decreasing the cancer risk (and improving your health).