Think before you drink: Consuming one to two glasses of alcohol daily may increase cancer risk
A common refrain among people who like to drink a glass or two of wine every night is that wine, when taken in moderation, is good for your health. Red wine, in particular, is said to be heart-healthy because it’s chock-full of antioxidants.
But a recent study suggests that when it comes to cancer risk, light drinking is no different from heavy drinking. Researchers from the University of Tokyo, Harvard University and the Kanto Rosai Hospital in Japan found that drinking even small amounts of alcohol every day can drive up your risk of cancer. They arrived at this conclusion after comparing the health records of thousands of Japanese hospital patients with those of healthy people.
Their findings show that your risk of cancer increases with the amount of alcohol you consume. For example, drinking two glasses every day for five years can raise your cancer risk to the same level as drinking one glass a day for a decade does. Meanwhile, never having a single swig in your entire life is associated with the lowest risk.
“Even light to moderate alcohol consumption appears to be associated with elevated cancer risk,” the researchers wrote in their report.
How does alcohol cause cancer
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all types of alcoholic drinks are linked to cancer, including those that we deem healthy, such as white and red wine. Like with the study above, the CDC says that the more you drink, the more likely you are to develop cancer.
The following types of cancer are especially prevalent among heavy drinkers:
- Mouth and throat cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Liver cancer
- Breast cancer
So how does alcohol cause cancer? When you drink, your body breaks down alcohol and produces a toxic chemical called acetaldehyde in the process. Acetaldehyde can damage your DNA and mess with your hormone levels, which can cause your cells to divide incorrectly.
Alcohol can also cause cancer in women by increasing estrogen levels. Estrogen is known as one of the female sex hormones, though men have it, too. Researchers consider high estrogen levels a key factor in the development of breast cancer and other hormone-sensitive cancers.
Drinking alcohol can also damage the cells in your mouth and throat. This makes it easier for carcinogens like tobacco to be absorbed into your body.
Do you need to stop drinking altogether?
Avoiding alcohol completely helps stave off cancer. But if you like to drink, do so in moderation. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 recommends drinking no more than a glass a day for women and no more than two a day for men.
Avoid alcohol altogether if the following criteria apply to you:
- You are under the legal drinking age of 21.
- You are pregnant or may be pregnant.
- You have health problems that can be made worse by drinking.
- You are required to perform tasks that are dangerous to do when under the influence of alcohol.
The CDC also deems it safe if you abstain from drinking while taking any medication.
How to control drinking
Like to tipple and make merry? Here’s what you can do to cut back on drinking:
- Set a realistic goal. If you’ve been drinking excessively for the better part of the week, take it slow by tapering your alcohol intake.
- Count your drinks. Take a mental note or keep a pen and paper with you to record how many drinks you’ve had. Doing so can help reduce or slow your drinking.
- Measure your drinks. It’s easy to get around the preceding rule by drinking from a large glass. Use a standard glass to accurately measure how much you’ve drank for the night.
- Pace yourself. Sip your drink slowly or have only one glass per hour.
- Eat. Some people who eat before drinking successfully reduce their craving for booze.
- Avoid your triggers. Triggers are the people, places, things and activities that increase your urge to drink. These are usually things you have come to associate with drinking.
- Find a hobby. A hobby will keep you preoccupied and distracted.
- Learn to say no. If someone offers you a drink or expects you to knock back a few as you may have done with them in the past, learn to politely say “no.”
Drinking small amounts every now and then isn’t as bad as drinking heavily, but it’s still better if you go turkey and adopt a booze-free diet. Doing so would dramatically improve your health and slash your cancer risk.