A new study from South Korea showed that cancer risk increases when you drink more alcohol. This study had an unusually high participant rate, more than 4.5 million Koreans. It was published in the JAMA Network Open on August 24, 2022. CNN re-published this as a news story.
Set-up of the study
The study participants were from a Korean National Health Insurance Service. The age of the subjects was 40 years and up. They had participated in a national health screening in 2009 and 2011. Good records were available on their drinking status. The study authors wrote: “In this large cohort study that used repeated measures of alcohol consumption, we found that individuals who increased their alcohol consumption, regardless of their baseline drinking level, had an increased incidence of alcohol-related and all cancers compared with those who sustained their current level of drinking.”
Results of the study
- Subjects who were initially non-drinkers and who started drinking alcohol developed stomach, liver, gallbladder and lung cancer, multiple myeloma and leukemia.
- Those who reduced their heavy drinking to moderate or mild drinking experienced less alcohol-related cancers and cancers in general.
Limits of the study
The authors did not have information about previous alcohol consumption. They only had knowledge about the subjects’ drinking behavior from two national health screenings, which were 2 years apart. They followed people for a total of 7 years. This was not enough to assess long-term changes.
They also did not know about other healthy behavior patterns that were present alongside the reduction in alcohol intake. This could have influenced the risk reduction assessment.
The authors did not discuss enzyme defects in Asian populations that interfere with the breakdown of alcohol. In order to further investigate this, researchers have to include other ethnic groups in future studies.
General remarks about alcohol consumption and cancer
The American Cancer Society points out that alcohol consumption is “one of the most important preventable risk factors for cancer, along with tobacco use and excess body weight.” 6% of all cancers and 4% of all cancer deaths in the US are due to alcohol consumption.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that alcohol consumption increases the risk of these cancers: mouth and throat, larynx, esophagus, colon and rectum, liver and breast in women.
The American Cancer Society said: “For each of these cancers, the more alcohol you drink, the higher your cancer risk. But for some types of cancer, most notably breast cancer, consuming even small amounts of alcohol can increase risk.”
Previous research about alcohol consumption and cancer development
Here are a few studies that have in the past pointed out that even small amounts of alcohol can cause cancer.
- Breast cancer: This publication pointed out that even one drink per day, can cause breast cancer. The best to prevent cancer formation is to keep your alcohol consumption as low as 0%. This is in contrast to the American Heart Association’s recommendation that men should drink up to 2 drinks per day and women 1 drink per day to prevent heart attacks and strokes.
- Breast cancer, colorectal cancer and cancer of the esophagus are closely related to the amount of alcohol you consume.
- Larger studies have shown that no amount of alcohol is good. Alcohol has a close relationship to causing various cancers. Alcohol weakens the immune system. Also, alcohol has a negative influence on the bacterial composition, the microbiome in our digestive tract. This can be a cause for colon cancer. Liver cancer, mouth cancer and breast cancer also have a direct relationship to increased alcohol consumption.
There is more and more evidence that even smaller amounts of alcohol consumption are associated to the development of various cancers like colon cancer, liver cancer, mouth cancer, larynx, breast cancer and esophagus cancer. Even cancer of the pancreas and ovarian cancer are more common among alcohol consumers than those who abstain. The new findings are in stark contrast to the recommendation for women to drink one glass of red wine per day and for men to drink 2 glasses of wine to prevent heart disease.
A glass of wine is not as healthy as was stated in the past
Some of the older studies that came up with this conclusion may have been biased by the wine industry that sponsored or indirectly supported these studies. There are alternatives, namely to take 500 mg of resveratrol daily instead of daily red wine. It is the bioflavonoids in red wine that support the heart, which is contained in resveratrol. Note that you should drink as little alcohol as possible, if at all. This prevents various cancers and is good for your health in general.