Talk about a non-happy hour: New research from the American Journal of Public Health now states that one in 30 cancer-related deaths can be traced back to alcohol. And the worst part? Even drinking in moderation of about one to one-and-a-half drinks per day (which many experts says is safe) still won't do you any good.
Reports WebMD, study author Dr. David Nelson, director of the Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program at the U.S. National Cancer Institute, examined past statistics from 2009. Of the approximately 560,000 cancer-related deaths that year, 3.5 percent of them — or about 20,000 — were caused by alcohol-related cancers. And even drinking between one and three alcoholic drinks per day, which is considered to be moderate, was linked for between 25 to 35 percent of those deaths.
And what are those cancers? For women, the biggest threat is breast cancer, with 15 percent of breast-cancer related deaths traced back to alcohol. Said one doctor to Everyday Health, David H. Jernigan Ph.D. at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore: "There is no safe level of alcohol consumption for breast cancer." And for men, they were more likely to die from oral, pharynx, larynx, and esophageal cancer. The tie between oral cancers and alcohol may also be linked to tobacco use, said Eric Jacobs, Ph.D., strategic director of pharmacoepidemiology for the American Cancer Society, to Everyday Health. However, alcohol has also been linked to other health benefits, such as heart health.
How exactly does alcohol relate to cancer? The American Cancer Society offered possible reasons, but it's not entirely clear. In the case of breast cancer, it's believed that alcohol may affect levels of estrogen and other hormones. It may also be that alcohol simply damages cells, whether impairing DNA, allowing carcinogens and other nasty chemicals into cells, or acting as a "chemical irritant." (That doesn't sound good.) So.... may we recommend some health-boosting green tea? Coffee to prevent diseases? Mocktails to ease the pain of this terrible news?
UPDATE: Dr. R. Curtis Ellison, at the Boston School University of Medicine, has responded to the study with his own critique. In it, he says:
"The authors do not clearly separate the effects of truly moderate drinking from heavier drinking in their conclusions. They use up to 20 grams of alcohol per day as their lowest drinking category; this is higher than the 14 grams per day that is the current definition of responsible drinking for women in the U.S. Guidelines. Further, as stated, if reported intakes are increased artificially, many more light drinkers would be bumped up into higher categories of drinking. The result of this mis-categorization is that bona fide moderate drinking, which has been shown by others to have no association with most types of cancer, is improperly associated in this study with increased cancer."