Research shows alcohol consumption is linked to cancer of the breast, mouth, upper throat, bowel, liver, esophagus, and larynx, and also contributes to pancreatic cancer.
Stop smoking cigarettes. Cut down on fried food. Eat leafy greens. Wear sunscreen. Exercise. Get regular physicals.
These are all ways to reduce cancer risk. Yet there is a known carcinogen lurking in the diet of most Americans — something that you may actually believe to be healthy in moderation despite being linked to multiple forms of cancer.
In fact, this substance ranks as one of the leading causes of preventable death. So how can you reduce your cancer risk? What should you eliminate?
Alcohol is linked to cancer of the breast, mouth, upper throat, bowel, liver, esophagus, and larynx (voice box). It also contributes to pancreatic cancer.
“When it comes to alcohol consumption and cancers, clearly excessive drinking is the riskiest type of drinking. But when it comes to cancer, there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.” says Dr. Timothy Naimi, an associate professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine.
In the U.S., alcohol consumption causes 20,000 cancer deaths annually, or about 3.5% of all cancer-related deaths. How does alcohol cause cancer? When ingested, our bodies convert alcohol (ethanol) into a toxic chemical — acetaldehyde.
Acetaldehyde damages DNA and then stops cells from repairing the damage. In addition, acetaldehyde causes liver cells to grow at a faster rate than normal. The regenerated cells are more likely to be genetically mutated, causing cancer.
Typically, the liver breaks down ethanol, but other cell types can do this as well. Bacteria that live in our mouths and the linings of our guts can also convert ethanol into acetaldehyde leading to the high incidence of oral cancers linked to alcohol use.
Finally, alcohol increases hormone levels, including estrogen, in the body. Hormones are responsible for telling our cells when to divide. High levels of estrogen increases the risk of breast cancer.
Breast cancer ranks as the most common type of drinking-related death in women. It alone makes up 15% of the alcohol-related deaths. Men saw most alcohol-associated deaths due to mouth, throat and cancers.
But wait, light drinking doesn’t cause cancer does it?
Yes, apparently it does.
In a meta-analysis done in 2013 across 92,000 light drinkers and 60,000 non-drinkers, light drinking was associated with higher cancer risk across many types of cancers, including breast cancer.
A seven-year study across 1.2 million women, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found that alcohol consumption increased the chance of developing cancer no matter how little or what type of alcohol the women drank.
Compared to non-drinkers, women who consume three alcoholic drinks per week increase their breast cancer risk by 15%.
Alcohol was declared a known carcinogen in 1988. Today most medical professionals agree that the health benefits of alcohol have been grossly overstated while the risks are often brushed over or swept under the rug in our heavy drinking culture. When it comes to increasing your cancer risk, experts agree that the only safe level of drinking is no drinking at all.
The good news is that any reduction in your alcohol consumption reduces your risk of cancer. And unless you have developed an alcohol addiction, reducing your intake should not be difficult.
Here are five strategies to drink less and reduce your cancer risk.
1. Set limits. The Chief Medical examiner for the United Kingdom (insert link) recommends no more than five pints of beer or glasses of wine per week — and not all in one go. This simple guideline will reduce many people’s alcohol intake substantially.
2. Be mindful. Think before you drink. Alcohol is so prevalent in social situations that it can be easy to pick up a drink out of habit. Being mindful of what you drink can have lasting benefits on your health.
3. Order an alternative. We don’t often think about ordering something non-alcoholic, but the truth is there are dozens of great tasting alternatives.
Not only will you reduce your cancer risk but you can often reduce your calorie intake with a non-alcoholic drink.
4. Stay hydrated. It’s easy to drink more than you intended when you are thirsty. Ironically, alcohol — while it may give the illusion of quenching your thirst — actually dehydrates you.
Having a glass of water before you drink alcohol is one of the simplest ways to reduce your overall alcohol intake.
5. Don’t feel forced. The social pressure to drink can be significant, yet when it comes to your health it’s important to set boundaries.
Remember, even though giving in may seem easier in the moment, it can be risky when it comes to cancer.
Annie Grace is the author of “This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change Your Life.” Learn more at: thisnakedmind.com. Connect with Annie on Twitter.com and Facebook.com.
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