Fuel to the fire, alcohol to estrogen..… Alcohol is a cause of breast cancer. There is no such thing as a little poison, poison in moderation. Poison is poison. As October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – Let’s please be aware of the realities of alcohol – the studies on alcohol and breast cancer make it clear, alcohol is NOT our friend. One in eight women in the United States will get breast cancer.
All major cancer institutions agree – the 3 most influential lifestyle choices paramount to maintaining breast health are:
- controlling body fat level
- limiting alcohol
- Being physically active
They are all important – being vigilant about 2, does not ease the burden of onus on the third.
Women who are carriers of any of the inherited defective genes, BRCA, PALB2, HBOC… have a greater risk of developing breast cancer. Minimizing, even better eliminating alcohol would be an outstanding prophylactic choice. Alcohol is also associated with an increased risk of recurrence of breast cancer.
A few myths to dispel and annihilate immediately:
- A glass of wine a day is NOT good for you – not for your heart, not for any part of you
- The health effects of alcohol start with the very first glass
- Alcohol does not reduce stress, it causes physiological stress, oxidative stress, inflammation, cellular dysfunction.
“Moderation”, social drinking, are vague concepts perpetuated by those marketing alcohol ….they are not representative of guidelines supported by health professionals. These are concepts people want to believe, and many health professionals believe they encourage people to drink more.
One drink equals: 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
The National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services lists consumption of alcoholic beverages as a known human carcinogen. In 1988, the IARC (International Agency for Cancer Research) declared alcohol a carcinogen.
The fact is, alcohol is a contributing factor to all of our major illnesses…heart disease, at least 7 types of cancer, liver disease, obesity, mental health issues, immune dysfunction, with inflammation being at the root cause. I feel compelled to mention here that heart disease kills more women each year than breast cancer, in fact, more women than all cancers combined.
According to the CDC, alcohol costs the United States each year:
- 88,000 Lives. According to the American Journal of Public Health, 20,000 cancer deaths in the US per year are attributed to alcohol. 15% of those deaths were breast cancer. This equals 6,000 breast cancer deaths per year in the US attributable to alcohol. What is even more shocking, studies in New Zealand showed that the majority of women whose breast cancer was attributed to alcohol, drank no more than “a glass a day”.
- $223 Billion Dollars: health care costs, lost productivity at work, motor vehicle accidents, criminal justice system
In July 2016, New Zealand Public Health Physician and Epidemiologist Dr. Jennie Connor released an extensive study commissioned by the Center for Addiction. The study was a compilation of thousands of world wide meta analyses studying the relationship between alcohol and cancer. The conclusion was that alcohol causes cancer in at least 7 sites in the body. I have had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Connor twice. Once on her own, and the second time with a panel of 3 other health professionals I assembled, discussing the many negative health effects of alcohol. The links to both interviews are located below:
There are a number of ways in which it is thought that alcohol causes breast cancer.
- Alcohol can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones associated with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer.
- Girls aged 9 to 15 who drink three to five drinks a week have three times the risk of developing benign breast lumps, which are associated with a higher risk (500% higher risk) of breast cancer later in life. One particular of these studies from Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Dr Graham Colditz study author states ‘“If a female averages a drink per day between her first period and her first full-term pregnancy, she increases her risk of breast cancer by 13 percent”. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 40% of college age women admit to binge drinking…..those that admit.
- Alcohol (ethanol) is converted into a toxic chemical called acetaldehyde in our body, damaging the DNA, in a number of possible ways and preventing cells from repairing this damage.
- Alcohol causes rapid re-growth of liver cells, which frequently have altered DNA
- Alcohol is a solvent. When someone consumes alcohol and smokes they exponentially increase their risk for cancer as the alcohol enables the mutagenic chemicals in the tobacco to be better absorbed into the body.
- Alcohol is a cause of oxidative stress, producing ROS – Reactive Oxygen Species which alter the DNA.
- Alcohol encourages the body to store fat. It provides the body with almost as many calories as fat, yet there is no benefit to the body, only burden. We know body fat cells can be thought of as active endocrine glands, secreting hormones upsetting hormonal balance. Hormonal balance is critical in disease prevention.
- Still being studied…alcohol interferes with folate metabolism – which is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and cancer.
- As I try and mention in every article I write, our muscle mass is our BFF – Best Friend Forever – protecting us from illness in numerous ways, their great looks is merely a reward for good effort. Muscles are critical for immune function, sugar regulation, metabolism…just to name a few. Alcohol lowers testosterone levels (critical for both men and women to build muscle and as we mentioned earlier raises estrogen levels. Alcoholic Myopathy – Alcohol destroys muscle mass AND interferes with protein synthesis, not allowing the body to build more muscle mass. In an alcohol free body – studies have shown that people have the ability to grow muscle mass well into their 90s. Alcohol also depletes the body of many vitamins and minerals critical to muscle growth.
- Alcohol dehydrates, proven in numerous studies hydration is a key step in cancer prevention.
Abstaining from alcohol for periods of time and binge drinking (defined as 4 or more glasses of alcohol per sitting (see measures of a glass above) is associated with pancreatic cancer
A glass of wine a day is not good for the heart. According to the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 500mg of Resveratrol (used as the rationalization that wine is healthy) are necessary to provide health benefits. A glass of red wine has 12.5mg of resveratrol. To meet the potential health benefits of resveratrol would require drinking 40 liters of wine per day. Older studies which tried to claim that a glass of wine a day was good for you have been dissected, proving what was thought as a benefit of the alcohol, has been attributed to other factors, not the alcohol. The scientific methods in these studies was painfully loose. I think we can all think of a number of heart smart activities!
The bottom line is: Alcohol is a carcinogen and increases our risk of cancer, especially breast cancer. It increases our risk of most chronic diseases. We can still engage in the many social aspects of drinking alcohol, we can substitute the alcohol with other choices…….save our money and our health!