For a brief update on alcohol’s link to breast cancer, click here.
The proof keeps getting stronger and stronger: Alcohol increases your risk of getting cancer, especially certain common kinds. Among them–breast and colon cancer.
“The evidence that alcoholic drinks are a cause of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx, oesophagus, colorectum (men), and breast is convincing. They are probably a cause of liver cancer, and of colorectal cancer in women.”
That’s the conclusion published a few years back by an international panel of scientists who reviewed all the studies. Their recent updates on colorectal and breast cancer confirm the findings.*
“The evidence does not show any ‘safe limit’ of intake,” they say.
And it doesn’t seem to matter what type of alcohol you drink. Even red wine? Yes, even red wine is a problem, despite that it contains the compound resveratrol, which has been touted as anti-cancer. Seek resveratrol elsewhere–in blueberries or the skins of red or muscadine grapes.
So how does alcohol fuel cancer?
Have you ever noticed hot flashes after a glass of wine or two? Alcohol is estrogenic, says Dr. Jeanne Wallace, a PhD in nutrition who counsels people with cancer. The liver enzymes that break down alcohol are also used to clear sex hormones; it’s like two people trying to get through a narrow door, and at levels more than one drink a day, alcohol always wins, Wallace says.
Plus, wine and beer contain sugars, which increase production of insulin, which in turn has been linked to cancer growth. Alcohol may also “induce folate deficiency in the colon and rectum,” says the international group, which can lead to malfunctions in DNA. Plus, it
- suppresses the immune system’s ability to produce cells that destroy cancer cells
- elevates triglyceride levels , which are associated with abdominal fat, which in turn is biologically active and produces compounds that signal cell growth
- prompts the liver to produce insulin-like growth factors, which also stimulate cell growth
The anti-cancer bottom line: Don’t drink, but if you must every so often, don’t drink on an empty stomach. Indulge first and foremost on some healthy folate–found in greens and beans. Their fiber will also slow your absorption of sugars. Kale chips and humus, anyone?
*The discussion of alcohol and cancer is on pages 157-171 of the original 2007 report, available at http://www.dietandcancerreport.org. That report’s recent update on breast cancer suggests that there may be an exception for breast cancer that is both estrogen and progesterone negative.