Researchers conclude that there is no safe threshold for alcohol and cancer risk.
The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, shows that alcohol accounts for 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths in the U.S. That’s a whopping 20,000-or-so alcohol-attributable deaths annually.
Their estimates showed that each alcohol-related cancer death led to about 18 years of life lost. Do the math: This means that, on average, if you would have lived alcohol-free to, say, 80, your alcohol-related breast cancer death would take your life at closer to age 62.
Still looking forward to your six-pack TGIF celebration at the end of your work week?
But how much is too much? As it turns out, Not much!
True enough, those who drink more that three drinks a day have the highest risk of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths. But before you offer up a toast to your good fortune as one who drinks less, you should know that the study also showed that 30 percent of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths happened to those who consumed less than one and a half drinks a day.
So, as it turns out, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) was right when, four years ago, they set Dietary Guidelines for Americans advising that, "If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation – up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men."
That said, the researchers in this latest study concluded that, while higher consumption increases risk, there is no safe threshold for alcohol and cancer risk.
Just one drink … But in How big of a glass?
Researchers define a drink by units, in which one unit is 10 ml of pure alcohol. That’s roughly a single shot glass of stronger liquors, such as vodka or whiskey, or a standard-sized single bottle of beer. If you’re one of those who fills their red wine glass to the top – which is not how a red wine glass is meant to be used – you’ve likely just consumed the alcoholic equivalent of three drinks already. That particular kind of “just one drink” is enough to put you into the higher cancer risk category.
The science behind the conclusions
The scientists used 2009 U.S. mortality data, aligning it to alcohol surveys and per capita alcohol consumption data to determine the extent to which cancer deaths can be attributed to alcohol use. As well, the researchers studied earlier cancer research and even examined alcohol sales figures from 2009 and two large nationwide surveys of alcohol consumption levels in adults.
Is no alcohol the answer?
But the sum of it remains that, while alcohol – in moderation – may offer a few cardiovascular benefits, alcohol's cancer-causing properties appear to outweigh the benefits.