Studies have been emerging for years linking alcohol to multiple health concerns, but for every study like this, there appears to be one more arguing that moderate alcohol consumption is not only fine, but can actually promote good health. These conflicting reports leave us with many questions. If there are any benefits to drinking actual, do they outweigh the harm it causes? How much alcohol is safe to drink? Or is alcohol more harmfrul than we’ve been led to believe? Having a glass of wine with dinner every night or enjoying a few drinks over the weekend is a normal part of our culture, but it may be time we start questioning these habits.
A new study published in the journal Addiction has found “strong evidence” that alcohol causes cancer in several different places within the body, “and probably others” as well. The types of confirmed cancers listed in the study include liver, colon, rectum, female breast, larynx (throat organ), orolynx (behind the mouth), and esophagus.
The study emphasizes how firmly this link has been established already:
In the last decade there has been a proliferation of research literature, reviews and comment on the association of alcohol consumption with cancer. In some parts of the world the scientific consensus that alcohol causes cancer has already led to more explicit consideration of cancer risk in policy-making, and programmes to increase public knowledge of the risks.
The researchers also point out that current estimates of alcohol-attributable cancers make up 5.8 % of all cancer deaths worldwide. This may seem like a small sum until you consider the sheer number of people who die from cancer each year. Now think about all of the people who will have some form of cancer during their lifetime that don’t die. How many of those could be alcohol-induced?
For the study, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of every major study done over the last decade on alcohol and cancer. The drew upon research from major institutions like the American Institute for Cancer Research and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, as well as independent studies.
Jennie Conor, lead researcher of the study and the chair in preventive and social medicine at the University of Otago, explained that while many of these studies drew links between alcohol and cancer, she and her team wanted to see if there was definitive causal link between the two.
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The Risks Are Reversible
Fortunately, the risks associated with drinking alcohol are reversible. For example, a recent review of the risk of laryngeal and pharyngeal cancers after quitting saw a reduction of 15 percent of the excess risk in 5 years. Evidence of reversibility has also been found in liver cancer, among others.
How Much is Too Much?
Connor told CTV News that there “doesn’t seem to be any threshold below which drinking is actually safe with respect to cancer.” “So the straightforward obvious answer to your question is that no alcohol is safe, and any alcohol increases your risk of some types of cancer,” she elaborated.
A broad study conducted in the UK called The Million Women Study has arrived at similar conclusions. They found that, during 7 years of follow-up, a 5 percent increase in total cancer was seen in women who drank between 70 and 140g of alcohol per week compared with those who drank less than 20g per week. They also saw a 13 percent increase in breast cancer. (source)
And in 2013, a meta-analysis found that even light drinkers still faced an increased risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, oesophagus, and breast (but not colorectal, liver, or laryngeal cancers.) (source)
Large cohort studies have also found that, for women in particular, light to moderate alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing alcohol-related cancers. This includes breast cancer especially. (source)
Given all the evidence, it seems clear that anyone serious about protecting their health and well-being should consider cutting out alcohol.
The Side of Alcohol Addiction That Nobody Ever Talks About
As mentioned earlier, drinking alcohol on a regular basis has become the norm. What has led people to believe that it’s okay to drink a beer every night? Or to become intoxicated every single weekend? Is this the product of mass marketing? Certainly drinking and socializing have become inseparable, to the point where you will be met with confused stares and even teasing if you choose to abstain at a gathering where others are drinking. Why is this so? And how have we come to believe that putting something so toxic into our bodies is okay? It’s important we start to address the underlying issues that motivate people to consume these substances. In some cases, it could simply be ignorance of the dangers, but in others, it may be a coping mechanism, a way of escaping unhappiness or other personal issues.
While one could make the case that the mind-body connection can overcome anything, and this is why some people who smoke and drink all of their lives live well into old age, this doesn’t hold true for everyone. The body is strong, and can deal with a lot of abuse, particularly if it’s healthy, but there is no doubt that alcohol consumption and other unhealthy habits are contributing to the rise in disease rates we’re seeing.
Are we at the point where most of us need to consume alcohol, or some other type of mind-altering substance, in order to enjoy our human experience? Have we become so numb and so dependent on these highs that our emotions and state of being cannot be at peace without them?
Definitely something to think about. If abstaining from substances you regularly use to feel different disrupts your inner peace, or impedes your ability to experience joy, then that it an issue you may need to address. These are not physical issues; they’re mental and emotional issues. Unfortunately, we grow up without being taught how to deal with these things, which could be why we turn to dangerous behaviours in the first place, while ignoring the harm we could be doing to ourselves.
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