Drinking Alcohol Increases Cancer Risk
The most recent study, from Harvard University, established that women who drink from 3-6 glasses of wine per week have a 15% increased likelihood of breast cancer, while those who drink more increase their risk by more than 50%. Furthermore, it was estimated that up to 20% of breast cancers result from excessive drinking.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, followed 106,000 nurses from 1980 to 2008. The results were unmistakable: Drinking increases breast cancer incidence and ‘binge drinking’ – drinking more some nights than others – increased breast cancer incidence even further.
The research was led by Dr. Wendy Chen of Harvard and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Our results highlight the importance of considering lifetime exposure when evaluating the effect of alcohol, and probably other dietary factors, on the carcinogenesis process,” she commented.
Dr. Steven Narod, a researcher from the Women’s College Research Institute of Toronto, also commented about the study. “For some women the increase in risk of breast cancer may be considered substantial enough that cessation would seem prudent.”
Other research has confirmed this finding. “The fact that small amounts of alcohol can increase women’s risk of breast cancer has been known for at least a decade. This finding confirms what we already know,” said Professor Valerie Beral of University of Oxford.
Another recent study, this one published on November 1 in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that drinking increases other types of cancer.
The study, done by researchers from the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, followed 323,354 participants. The researchers found that both higher quantity drinking – drinking three or more drinks on drinking days – and higher frequency drinking – more drinking days increased cancer incidence. For example, higher quantity drinking increased deaths from all cancers among men by 24%; and higher frequency drinking increased deaths from all cancers among women by 32%. Breast cancer deaths went up by 44% for higher frequency drinkers, and prostate cancer in men went up by 55% for higher frequency drinkers. Deaths from colon cancer nearly doubled among women who drank more.
While researchers wrestle with the conflicting evidence between the cardiovascular benefits of the antioxidant resveratrol, it is clear from other research that alcohol – ethanol – is clearly carcinogenic and toxic to the body. This is why drinking damages the liver and why alcohol is responsible for an estimated 90% of all liver cirrhosis cases.
Drinking is not the only toxin involved in cancer. Many other chemicals and toxins have also been associated with cancer. Illustrating the connection between smoking toxins and breast cancer, in March of 2011, researchers from the University of West Virginia found, in an analysis of 79,900 women involved in the Women’s Health Initiative, that active smoking was significantly linked to breast cancer incidence. The increase in incidence ranged from 9% for former smokers to 50% for long-time smokers.
Certainly, resveratrol – a component heralded in wine – is a potent antioxidant. But wine is not its exclusive source or even a significant source. Resveratrol is a component of grape skins, as well as many other foods. Therefore, fresh red or purple grapes, or even juice, or many other fruits such as pomegranate, raspberries and others will typically have significantly more resveratrol content compared to wine.
In fact, a glass of red wine will typically have no more than about 1 milligram of resveratrol content. It would thus take a barrel of wine to render a significant amount of resveratrol.
Yet some research has shown that wine has some cardiovascular benefit, and many nutritionists feel this is derived from the proanthocyanidin content. But like resveratrol, many other healthy foods – those without ethanol content – contain proanthocyanidins. Oats and barley, for example, contain significant amounts of heart-healthy proanthocyanidins, as do most red and purple fruits.
Luo J, Margolis KL, Wactawski-Wende J, Horn K, Messina C, Stefanick ML, Tindle HA, Tong E, Rohan TE. Association of active and passive smoking with risk of breast cancer among postmenopausal women: a prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2011 Mar 1;342:d1016.
Breslow RA, Chen CM, Graubard BI, Mukamal KJ. Prospective Study of Alcohol Consumption Quantity and Frequency and Cancer-Specific Mortality in the US Population. Am J Epidemiol. 2011 Nov 1;174(9):1044-53.