January 2015

Warning:  Drinking Is Hazardous to Your Health


Consuming alcohol, like any other beverage, is a choice.  But is it your smartest choice?  For years alcohol has been touted to be cardio protective. The notion of alcohol’s protective effect on the heart depends on consistent light to moderate drinking, without episodic heavy or “binge” drinking. The daily low to moderate alcohol intake with your evening meal is associated with the strongest reduction in harmful cardiovascular outcomes.  Unfortunately heavy alcohol consumption can result in hypertension, atrial fibrillation, stroke, cardiomyopathy and liver damage.  More alarming is the risk associated with cancer.


Alcohol consumption is viewed as a modifiable behavioral risk factor for cancer.  There are direct correlations between alcohol consumption and the development of oral-pharyngeal, esophageal and breast cancer. A link is also being found to pancreatic cancer.  Alcohol contains at least 15 carcinogenic compounds including but not limited to acetaldehyde, arsenic, benzene, ethanol, formaldehyde, and lead. Ethanol is the most significant carcinogen and it is partially due to the fact that its metabolism is genetically controlled.


So why might this happen?  For one, these carcinogens come in direct contact with the mucosal cell surface and create cell damage and mutation.  Alcohol directly antagonizes folic acid which is needed for metabolism and cell growth and DNA function.  Alcohol also can increase estrogen levels and the activity of insulin-like growth factor receptors which can stimulate mammary cell growth increasing breast cancer cell changes.  Finally, drinking alcohol is also associated for many people with simultaneously smoking cigarettes. So now we have two dangerous cancer causing agents amplifying their negative effects. Of note… Hard alcohol is more directly associated with esophageal cancers than any other type of cancer.


Should alcohol now also have a warning label for its risk for cancer? The public opinion is surely mixed.  Most people do not even know or think about this risk. But knowledge is power, so it is “Your Choice” on whether to consume alcohol and exactly how much and how often. For heavy alcohol consumers, the good news if cutting back definitely lessens your risk for cancer. So, less is better.


Strategies to Reduce the Personal and Public Costs of Alcohol


Personal health behaviors:

  • Monitor your alcohol intake (“know your number”). This is similar to knowing your blood pressure, cholesterol level, or calorie intake.
  • Limit consumption to 20 g daily for men and 15 g daily for women (1.5 drinks for men and 1 drink for women, by US standards).
  • Less is more: Lower alcohol consumption leads to greater health and longevity.
  • Take a day off. Not drinking for 1-2 days each week can help the liver recover from the effects of alcohol and reduce the risk for liver complications.

Government intervention:

  • Apply a minimum pricing policy to alcohol to reduce consumption of cheap alcohol, especially by young people.
  • Label the amount of alcohol in grams (like food labeling) to allow consumers to track the exact amount of alcohol they are consuming.
  • Limit the times and places alcohol can be purchased to reduce impulse buying, and avoid contact with alcohol in shops and supermarkets.
  • Provide treatment to benefit individuals and society; offer to all people with an alcohol dependence problem.
  • Invest in research to develop new approaches to addiction.
  • Develop alternatives to alcohol — investigate new drugs that mimic the milder effects of alcohol; simulate relaxation without the negative side effects of alcohol.


So when my staff asks you “on average how many alcohol beverages do you have in an average week”?  Please be honest so that we can help lessen your health risks and educate you on the risk vs. benefits of consuming alcohol.

Here is to a Happy and Health 2015

Dr. Lee Ann