Heavy drinking is bad, binge drinking is very bad, and chronic heavy or binge drinking is worst of all. But moderate drinking, (1-2 glasses a day) generally lies on the other side of the spectrum for most healthy individuals. A recent study, however, may have nudged moderate drinking a little further down the scale.
Just One Glass
One glass of alcohol a day could increase your chance of cancer, claims a study published in the Journal of Oncology that reviewed over 200 studies on the effects of alcohol. Published last month, the results are based on data of 92,000 light drinkers and 60,000 non-drinkers.
According to the study, light alcohol consumption (10 grams of alcohol) increases the risk of developing
- esophageal cancer by 30%
- oral cancer by 17%
- pharyngeal cancer by 17%
- breast cancer by 5%
The numbers may vary from data to data, and the increase may not be substantial, but there is a definite increase, slight as it may be. Also, cancer rarely has just one causative agent. Combined with environmental, genetic, and other influencing factors, the risk of cancer may mount to a level that proves even a little bit of alcohol isn’t doing you a favor.
How does alcohol increase the risk of cancer?
For those of you who are inclined to think this is “just hype”—like me when I first read the headlines—this actually makes some sense when you consider the pathophysiology.
- Alcohol may act as an irritant and damage the cells in your mouth and throat. When damaged cells try to repair themselves, it can lead to DNA chances that can be a step towards cancer.
- Alcohol also may raise levels of estrogen, the hormone key in the growth and development of breast tissue, and thus effect a woman’s risk of breast cancer.
Drinking one glass a day averages about 7 glasses a week. Seven a week makes out to be about 217 glasses a month, and over 2,000 glasses a year. One glass may not seem like a lot, but it all adds up.
Weighing the risks and benefits
Of course, this fact flies in the face of the belief that a glass of red wine is good for you because it can reduce the chances of heart disease.
Additionally, there has been conflicting data about the role of alcohol in breast cancer: some studies show that low alcohol use can reduce breast cancer. Furthermore, since more women die from heart disease a year then from breast cancer, moderate drinking may still have its benefits.
Still, there are other safer and better ways of reducing heart disease risk, such as eating a diet low in fats and cholesterol, and staying physically active. Better yet, exercise and good nutrition will even decrease your risk for cancer.
The bottom line is this: moderate drinking may not place you at high risk for health problems, but its benefits are also limited. One drink a day may help your heart, but it also increases your chance of getting cancer.
If you don’t drink to begin with, then there is no reason to start. If you are a daily moderate drinker, then perhaps it’s time to reconsider. Remember, there’s no harm in stopping.