“Just a few drinks over the weekend.” “A glass of wine on a quiet evening at home with a good book.” “Only at parties.” Most people either justify their drinking habits this way or maybe even mean what they say. But being an occasional drinker doesn’t spare you from its harmful effects. Light or heavy drinking, alcohol is a substance that your body doesn’t need or want.
While alcohol causes multiple diseases, we focus on the big one here – cancer. According to studies, alcohol is a major causative factor for head, neck, esophageal, liver, breast, and colorectal cancer. Inconsistent evidence exists on the effect of alcohol on the cancer of the pancreas, uterus, bladder, and stomach. But, one thing is crystal clear: alcohol does up the risk for cancer, with a platterful of organs up for grabs.
Does Casual Drinking Lead To Cancer?
What harm could just a pint do? There is a consistent relation between alcohol and cancer, no matter how much you drink. Severe risks of cancer have been observed in heavy drinkers. The more you drink, the more you are at risk. Drinking less might not wham you in the face right now but just delay the inevitable.
For good reason, drinking alcohol is prohibited for those below the legal age as it wrecks the body. Healthcare institutes also suggest that if you’ve never had alcohol, don’t bother to start at any age.
What’s The Ideal Dosage For Alcohol?
The ideal dosage recommended (for those who absolutely cannot live without alcohol) is no more than one or two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women. The definition of a standard drink is about 14 g of pure alcohol. But, who actually looks into what they’re drinking and keep track? Few to none. Also, the level of alcohol and the associated risk change based on the drink of your choice. For example, drinking a large glass of wine every single day can increase the risk for mouth, upper throat, esophageal (food pipe), breast and bowel cancers.1
However, despite the recommendations, know that alcohol, in any quantity, is bad for health.
How Does Alcohol Cause Cancer?
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, 5.5 percent of cancer cases and 5.8 percent of cancer-related deaths worldwide are due to alcohol consumption. That’s nearly 4.8 million people drinking their way to a horrible death! Here’s how.
1. Forms Acetaldehyde And Damages Tissues
Your body processes the alcohol you drink and converts it into a toxic substance called acetaldehyde. This substance affects your body by damaging the DNA and putting a stop to cell repair. It also speeds up the growth of liver cells, which take on characteristics favorable for cancer. Acetaldehyde, thus, is considered a major cause of cancer, especially of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colorectal, liver and female breast.2
Alcohol also damages body tissues, which make an attempt to repair themselves. If the repair doesn’t go perfectly, which is the case most of the time, the DNA makes way for cancer.
2. Turns Even More Villainous With Smoking
As much fun as it is, smoking while boozing is the worst thing you could do to your body. Your risk for cancer shoots up when you combine the two as the resulting cell damage is immense. Alcohol helps tobacco smoke enter the body much more easily and get soaked up in the mouth and throat. You consequently absorb the cancerous chemicals to a larger extent and expose yourself to cancers of the oral cavity, larynx, pharynx (throat), and esophagus.3
3. Increases Estrogen Levels
Alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer in women mainly due to this effect. Drinking often increases estrogen in the body to unnatural levels, which lead to breast cancer.4
4. Makes You Gain Weight
This usually happens over time but is a risk nevertheless. Excess drinking means excess calories, which indicates nothing other than weight gain, for some more than the others. Increased weight and obesity are major contributing factors to cancer.5
5. Reduces Folate Absorption
Folate is one of the essential nutrients our body needs. It is important especially for pregnant women as folate required for both the mother and the baby to stay healthy and for growth and development. Folate is in low levels in most heavy drinkers as alcohol reduces the absorption of the nutrient. While the mechanism is unclear, studies have linked folate levels to cancer risk.6
Tips To Quit Alcohol Consumption
Quitting alcohol, especially if you’ve been an addict, can really tough. Some of these tips might help:
- Understand the withdrawal symptoms and prepare beforehand to deal with them. For example, seek psychological help to deal with the mood swings.
- Seek medical help to detox. This is a must, especially in the initial stages.
- Workout every day. Choose any one form of physical activity and aim to get good at it, if not master it. Do something that you’ll enjoy. Physical fitness will boost your willpower, self-esteem, and help you stay on track.
- Stop hanging out with your fellow drinkers for a few weeks or months. Find people who might understand what you’re going through.
- Do not cheat. Even if you feel like rewarding yourself for not touching a drink for a whole month, refrain. Just one sip can pull you back to your old habits.
- Use support groups but do not depend completely on them. Be your own strength.
- Find a purpose in life. Do something that will give meaning to your life. This can be something as simple as keeping your family happy by all means.
So is a particular type of alcohol better than the other? No. At least, not when it comes to cancer. Some studies have found that a substance called resveratrol in red wine prevents cancer in lab animals. With no proof of this reaction in humans, there’s actually no benefit to be had from drinking alcohol. Also, whether you binge-drink or spread the liquor across the week, the risks remain the same. The basic idea is this: lower your alcohol consumption, lower the risk of cancer.
While it’s good to give everything a shot in the one life that you’ve, we’d suggest you stay away from alcohol. Shortening your life with a horrendous disease like cancer is not how anybody should end their life if they have a choice. Make the right choices, stay healthy, and learn to have fun without any addictions.