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Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Alcohol and Cancer Risk for Women

Everyone is talking about this new study out of Britain in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute which found that middle-aged women who drank alcohol, even moderate amounts, had increased risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, larynx, rectum, liver, and breast. No difference was found with the type of alcohol that the women drank (wine, beer, liquor). The cancer most affected seemed to be breast, and the researchers estimate that 11% of breast cancers can be attributed to alcohol consumption.

The scary part about this study is that it should be a good representation because it was done on over a million women. Strong sample size. The other part that disturbs me is that this was found in women who averaged one drink per day.

The good news that didn't get much press is that this same study found that an average of one drink per day seemed to decrease risk for certain other cancers including thyroid, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and renal cell carcinoma (type of kidney cancer).

We (health professionals) have been saying for many, many years that drinking alcohol in larger quantities has definite health risk. But we thought that "moderate" amounts were OK, even beneficial. Moderation for women is defined as one drink per day and for men two drinks per day.

One drink is
  • 5 oz of wine
  • 12 oz of beer
  • 1.5 oz of distilled 80-proof alcohol

The health benefits were always thought to be heart-related, though, and not cancer related. Alcohol is a blood thinner, so it was found that in moderate amounts, it was actually beneficial to heart disease risk. The effect is similar to taking a baby aspirin every day.

What should a wine loving woman do?
I don't think this one study is cause for widespread panic--yet. If you enjoy your one drink each day or occasionally, keep doing it until we know more. If you could care less about alcohol, don't drink it. If you have high risk of cancers listed above, you may want to consider abstaining from alcohol if you are a woman.

The above is my personal opinion. In an editorial accompanying the article, two other health experts say that according to this report, "From the standpoint of cancer risk, the message could not be clearer. There is no level of alcohol consumption that can be considered safe."

Note: This study was only on women. Men metabolize alcohol much differently than women, so we don't know if future research will prove similar results or not. So men....you are off the hook...for now.

Photo courtesy of http://telegraph.co.uk
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About the Author


Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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