Last week the American Cancer Society issued new guidelines. They caused an uproar in the media but for those of us who have been looking at the science behind alcohol use, these changes seemed long overdue. Here’s what I wish everyone knew about cancer and alcohol.
What the American Cancer Society recommends
The American Cancer Society (ACS) has three main areas they focus on in their recommendations. These are physical activity, diet, and alcohol. Previous recommendations for physical activity were at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity for adults. Diet recommendations were to limit the consumption of processed meat and red meat and eat at least 2.5 cups of vegetables and fruits daily. They also recommended choosing whole grains instead of refined grain products and an emphasis on plant foods for a healthy diet. Old recommendations for alcohol were to limit to no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 per day for men.
So what has changed? New guidelines say to exercise 150-300 minutes at moderate-intensity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week; achieving or exceeding 300 minutes is optimal. When it comes to diet, they now recommend avoiding red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, highly processed foods, and refined grains and eating foods high in nutrients, including a variety of vegetables — dark green, red, and orange, fiber-rich legumes (beans and peas), fruits in a variety of colors, and whole grains. The biggest change in recommendations is the stance on alcohol — the ACS now says it’s best to avoid all alcohol completely.
What is the link between cancer and alcohol?
Alcohol is linked to cancers of the breast, mouth, upper throat, bowel, liver, esophagus, and larynx (voice box). It also contributes to pancreatic cancer. This information isn’t new by any means though. In fact, alcohol was declared a known carcinogen in 1988. Yet up until this year, guidelines still allowed for 1-2 drinks daily for women and men. This despite the fact that alcohol consumption causes 20,000 cancer deaths annually in the U.S., or about 3.5% of all cancer-related deaths.
How alcohol causes cancer
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What if I only drink a little?
Most of us think that if we only drink a little it really cannot contribute to our chances of developing cancer. Science says otherwise. The guidelines from the ACS are long overdue. In 2018, the World Health Organization stated there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. To back this up here are a few studies. A meta-analysis done in 2013 across 92,000 light drinkers and 60,000 non-drinkers showed light drinking was associated with higher cancer risk across many types of cancers, including breast cancer.
A seven-year study across 1.2 million women, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found that alcohol consumption increased the chance of developing cancer no matter how little or what type of alcohol the women drank.
Compared to non-drinkers, women who consume three alcoholic drinks per week increase their breast cancer risk by 15%.
How can you decrease the risk between cancer and alcohol?
The great thing is that when you choose to stop drinking you also reduce your risk of developing cancer. You don’t have to be alone in making that choice though. Join the over 100,000 others who have made the choice to change their relationship with alcohol in The Alcohol Experiment. With daily guidance and support, we’ll help you change your thinking and your desire to drink. Thus, following these new recommendations will seem effortless!