Alcoholism is a big issue worldwide, not just in the US. You probably know someone, either a family member or friend, who has suffered from alcoholism or died from alcohol related health issues. However, you may not know that there is a relationship between drinking too much alcohol and cancer.
With alcohol, the key is to drink in moderation, and it will not lead to harmful effects. For instance, having one drink at specific parties or once in a while is not likely to lead to much harm. However, the problem is when you begin having more than one or two drinks, which raises your risks of getting different cancer types. Even what gets harder is alcohol detox, which can be an uphill task when recovering from the issue.
So what are the limits of a drink?
Keep in mind that adults that choose to drink must remember specific situations require abstinence, for instance driving – you do not want to be caught with DUI (Driving under the Influence) charges.
There are guidelines that are present and dictate the limits one can take. For one standard drinking unit, a beer weighing 12 ounces has 5% alcohol, a glass of wine has 12%, and hard liquor has 40% alcohol.
Dangers of alcoholism
Overdoing the consumption of alcohol leads to serious problems with your health including alcohol withdrawal. These include high blood pressure, inflamed pancreas, and damage to the liver and psychological disorders. In fact, studies show that 3.5% of cancer deaths have links to the alcoholic history of the patient.
Note that the less alcohol amounts or frequency you consume, the lower your cancer risk becomes. In addition, there is no alcohol type that is worse or better than another, since the alcohol itself is responsible for the damage that occurs in the body – this is regardless of the form it is in, whether in beer, wines or spirits. It gets even worse if you smoke and drink at the same time.
Certain cancers that may result from high alcohol intake include mouth cancer, breast cancer, esophageal cancer (food pipe), pharyngeal (throat) cancer, liver cancer and bowel cancer.
Why is there a link between cancer and alcohol?
Scientific research has not come up with an exact reason for the increased prevalence of certain cancers with alcohol. However, some factors may play a role, and they include:
Presence of acetaldehyde
When the body senses the presence of alcohol, it changes the alcohol to a toxic chemical, acetaldehyde. This chemical is capable of damaging the DNA of your cells, and this makes them unable to repair the damage, and this leads to cancer.
The International Agency for Cancer research have put acetaldehyde under cancer causes, as well as high alcohol levels in the body. Ta side effect of the chemical is causing the cells of the liver to grow faster than usual levels as well, and due to the destruction of DNA, these new cells are likely to pick up alterations in their genes that lead to liver cancer.
Increase in certain hormones in the blood
High alcohol levels leads to the increase of certain hormones in the blood, such as estrogen. High levels of these hormones lead to breast cancer.
Low folate levels
Alcoholics tend to have low levels of folate in their bodies. This is a vital vitamin that assists the cells to make new DNA that is correct and healthy. Low levels of folate prove to be the cause of certain cancers, as studies prove.
However, the exact link between alcohol and low folate levels is not clear, in addition to establishing a link between the folate amounts in the body affects alcohol risks.
Increases the ability of the body to absorb carcinogens
The throat and mouth areas are the most affected parts of the body due to heavy alcohol consumption. This increases their ability to absorb carcinogen molecules, and this is why individuals that do both drinking and smoking are at higher risk of getting mouth, larynx, throat and gullet cancers.
Difficulties establishing risks
Though the ethanol type that alcoholic drinks is the same regardless of the type of drink, defining the safe limit of drinking is a difficult task because the amount of ethanol is different. The conclusive statement is that the more you drink over a sustained period, you will have a higher chance of developing cancer, especially of the head and upper torso.
However, this presents a challenge when trying to prove these links, mainly because:
Most people view alcoholism as a problem only when bad judgment is involved
Certain people are binge drinkers, and they are capable of functioning very well every day, even though they drink once in a while. However, they may not realize the impairment they have when they drink and cannot drive home, or when they undergo impaired motor functions.
For these individuals, they usually drink more than they think, so many strategies must be in place to educate them before they consume those drinks.
Some people may not realize how serious the link between cancer and alcohol intake is.
If you have a loved one who suffers from cancer of the esophageal area (food pipe), then you will realize the link. Challenges reside in educating people about the risks of heavy alcohol intake, and there is not enough evidence or tools that assist patients to remain free from alcohol.
There is lack of conclusive studies establishing the links
The relationship of most people to alcohol is a very complicated one. Some individuals and cultures advocate for light drinking, for instance a glass of wine after dinner. Others do not enjoy alcohol at all, and studies do not help the conclusion of identifying the risks.
Some studies will tell you that even light drinking increases cancer risk, while others tell you that it reduces the risk. People also have their own reasons for consuming or abstaining from alcohol, so data relating these two is not present and if it is, it is inconclusive.
The relationship between alcohol intake and higher cancer risk is indeed a complicated one, and it requires more studies to establish it. The best advice you may give a loved one regarding alcohol is to do it in moderation, as well as paying attention to their alcohol intake. It may probably be unwise to scare people with ‘cancer risks’ if we want alcohol detox and abstinence, and instead encourage people to protect their health the best way they can.