There is an increased risk in certain cancers just from having 1 or 2 alcoholic drinks a week. This was found by Sue Nelson, a BBC Radio reporter, went behind the headlines to find out how alcohol really affects our health based on the Million Women Study. She found there was an increased risk in certain cancers just from having 1 or 2 alcoholic drinks a week. Age, gender and genetic makeup influence our risk, but nobody really knows their personal risk.
Ian Gilmore, President of the Royal College of Physicians in London stated that in the UK death certificates citing the primary cause of death directly from alcohol itself were around 8,000 a year. 12,000-15,000 death certificates mention alcohol as a contributing factor and a staggering 40,000 death certificates attribute death to diseases which could be caused by alcohol – about 15% of these being oesophageal cancer and hypertension.
The alcohol-cancer link is known for well over 100 years now, but the mechanism is still not fully understood as so many areas are under-researched and under-funded. David Nutt, Prof of Neuro-Psycho-Pharmacology at the Imperial College in London, says alcohol acts on the brain, is processed by the liver and affects hormones profoundly.
Metabolites are toxic compounds
Professor Helmut Sykes from the University of Heidelberg, states that the metabolites of alcohol are toxic compounds, which bind to proteins in the blood causing an immune response. These metabolites also bind to proteins in the cells and have a carcinogenic effect. He stated categorically that all alcoholic beverages are carcinogenic.
The Million Women Study made headlines recently when it found that only one drink a week increases your risk of breast cancer. In 10 women having 2 drinks a week, if all 10 get cancer, one will have been caused by the alcohol. No study like this has ever been done before, so previous government guidelines of 2 drinks daily are now totally obsolete. No amount of alcohol is safe, according to Prof Gilmore.
The study showed that the most increased risk was breast cancer. Helmut Sykes said that an increase in oestrogen levels is the primary cause. The enzyme that degrades oestradiol and rids it from the body gets preoccupied with metabolizing alcohol, thus preventing removal of oestradiol. This remains in the body, stimulating breast tissue growth. If you drink, whether you are a man or a woman, you are likely to increase your risk of breast cancer, he said. What about the resveratrol and the antioxidants in red wine? According to these experts, you’d need many thousands of litres a day to receive a ‘benefit’. Binge-drinking was also shown to increase heart attacks. So why is all this only surfacing now? Perhaps ‘big money’ is responsible for under-funding and lack of research into this field.
Read more by Sally-Ann Creed, clinical nutritionalist