Drinking less alcohol lowers your risk of cancer, researchers conclude

Heavy drinking has always been linked to many health conditions. So it comes to no surprise that drinking less may be linked to a lower risk of cancer, as a study published in the journal PLOS Medicine suggests.

Researchers found that people who drank less alcohol had a lower risk of cancer and death from any cause during a nine-year trial period than those who drank more.

The researchers noted that people who had fewer than seven drinks a week had the lowest risk of cancer and death from any cause, compared with those who had more than seven drinks a week. With each additional drink a week, the risk of cancer and death increased still, according to the study.

However, the study found only an association between alcohol and cancer and death but did not prove cause and effect, according to the researchers.

The research team analyzed data about lifetime alcohol consumption from questionnaires that were given to nearly 100,000 participants in the U.S. between 1998 and 2000. The questionnaires asked how many drinks a participant currently had per week, and with what frequency, over the previous year.

The researchers also looked at data on the number of primary cancer diagnoses (the first time the participant had been diagnosed with cancer) and the accompanying deaths that occurred over the next nine years.

“The study results suggest that minimizing alcohol intake may help individuals who already drink to lower their risk of developing certain types of cancer, such as breast, colorectal and liver cancer,” lead study author Andrew Kunzmann, a postdoctoral research fellow at Queen’s University Belfast in Ireland, said in a statement.


However, Kunzmann noted that their study involved only older adults. This means that “we’re not really reflecting what happens in younger people if they drink,” he said. Moreover, the study couldn’t account for other lifestyle factors that may have affected the findings. But the results did take into consideration differences in diet, smoking, and education among participants, Kunzmann added.

“Light drinkers tend to be more wealthy or lead healthier lifestyles in a number of ways than never drinkers,” Kunzmann said, and these factors could also influence health.

Cancer and death have been investigated separately in previous studies, and this study may be the first to look into these outcomes together, said Kunzmann.

Previous studies suggest that light-to-moderate drinkers had the lowest risk of death from any cause, while those who never drink had the lowest risk of developing cancer, noted Kunzmann.

The researchers hope their study can influence countries’ guidelines to reduce the recommended alcohol intake. In the U.K., the guidelines recommend that both men and women should have fewer than six drinks a week, while in the U.S., guidelines state that men should not have more than two drinks a day and women no more than one.

However, public health guidelines take into account many more factors than the study authors did, Kunzmann said. The study aimed to help people make informed health decisions, he added.

Alcohol use and cancer

Excessive alcohol intake has always been a factor in many health problems, including the development of certain types of cancer. For each of the cancers listed below, the more alcohol you drink, the higher your cancer risk. (Related: Drinking alcohol may raise the risk of prostate cancer.)

Some cancers associated with alcohol use include:

  • Breast
  • Colon and rectum
  • Esophagus
  • Liver
  • Mouth
  • Pancreas
  • Stomach
  • Throat (pharynx)
  • Voice box (larynx)

Drinking coupled with smoking raises the risk of these cancers significantly more than drinking or smoking alone. Moreover, the type of alcoholic drink may not matter that much; it is still the amount of alcohol you consume over time that may be the most important factor in cancer risk.

Learn more about the dangers of heavy drinking at Addiction.news.

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