Alcohol and Cancer: What You Ought to Know

Guest post submitted by MD Anderson Cancer Center

Photo by Pixomar

When you raise your glass at this year’s holiday toast, choose your beverage wisely.

Research shows that drinking even a small amount of alcohol increases your chances of developing cancer, including oral cancer, breast cancer and liver cancer.

Yet, other research shows that drinking small amounts of alcohol may protect the body against coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Some evidence even suggests that red wine may help prevent cancer.

Researchers are still trying to learn more about how alcohol links to cancer. But, convincing evidence does support the fact that heavy drinking damages cells and contributes to cancer development.

Confused? Use our beverage guide to choose a drink with the lowest health risk, and learn your recommended drink limit and what alcoholic drinks to avoid.

Stick to the recommended serving size

Alcoholic drinks come in three choices: beer, wine and liquor. A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor.

The National Cancer Institute recommends that women have no more than one drink per day and men have no more than two drinks per day.

Women shouldn’t drink as much as men because they have less total body water to dilute the effects of alcohol. This means alcohol stays in a woman’s body longer than in a man’s.  And, the longer large amounts of alcohol stay in the body, the higher the risk for brain and organ damage, motor vehicle crashes, high blood pressure, stroke, violence, suicide and other injury.

Select low-calorie options

Many of us get way too many calories from drinks — about 460 calories a day, according to a recent study. That can increase your chance for becoming overweight or obese, which ups your cancer risk and leads to other health concerns.

Before taking a sip of alcohol, check the bottle label and look at the calories per serving if listed. Many popular drinks are loaded with empty calories — especially drinks mixed with soda, fruit juice or cream. Eggnog is one of the biggest holiday offenders with about 340 calories per one-cup serving.

Want a mixed drink? Try creating a low-calorie blend by adding diet soda or water.

Stay away from 100-proof liquor

It’s the ethanol in beer, wine and liquor that researchers believe increases cancer risk.

So while you’re checking the bottle label, check the ethanol percentage or number as well. You’ll find either an alcohol by volume (ABV) percentage or an alcohol proof number.

ABV and alcohol proof are standard measures used worldwide to show how much alcohol or ethanol is in a beverage. In the United States, the alcohol proof number is twice the ABV percentage.

Beer, wine and liquor should contain the same amount of ethanol per serving — about half an ounce. That equals to about:

  • 40% ABV or 80-proof in liquor
  • 2 – 12% ABV in beer
  • 9 – 18% ABV in wine

Avoid anything with more, like 100-proof liquor. Also, how much you drink over time matters more than what you drink.

Non-alcoholic drinks are probably best

Your end-of-year celebrations may come with fully stocked bars. But avoiding them is your best bet to ringing in a healthy New Year.

If you’re looking for a non-alcoholic drink with a “cocktail-like” feel, try club soda and lime. It has minimal calories and health risks. Or, try a low-calorie festive holiday punch.

Remember, alcoholic beverages offer few nutritional benefits. Look for healthier sources to get your holiday calories.

Related Links

Alcohol Use and Cancer (American Cancer Society)
The Facts about Alcohol (American Institute for Cancer Research)
Alcohol Consumption (National Cancer Institute)

This article originally appeared on MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Focused on Health e-newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. To subscribe to future issues, click here.

Image: Pixomar

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