“It’s harmless,” your friend says as she orders you another glass of wine. Whether you’re out with friends, celebrating a promotion, or relaxing at the end of a long day, you might not think twice about consuming an alcoholic beverage. And if the setting is right, you might go ahead an order a few more beverages than usual. But while you’re convincing yourself that it’s just a harmless drink, you’re actually putting your body in danger. The more you drink and the longer you drink, the higher your risk for cancer. In fact, the American Society of Clinical Oncology recently released information that reveals 5% of all cancers are a result of alcohol consumption and 5.8% of cancer deaths is related to alcohol.
Whether your preference is beer, wine, or liquor, consumption of alcohol raises the potential for a diagnosis of several GI cancers including mouth, throat, larynx, esophageal, liver, and colon.
The exact reasons alcohol is so dangerous to your body is still under review. However, a large part of the issue is that through the production of alcohol, ethanol becomes one of the leading ingredients in every beverage. Ethanol poses a threat to the healthy cells in your body, and once alcohol is consumed, a chemical called acetaldehyde is produced which stops cells from repairing damaged DNA. Alcohol is also extremely harmful to your liver, one of the most important organs in your GI tract. The liver creates nutrients, detoxifies unhealthy substances and cleans your blood. When damage is done to your liver as a result of heavy alcohol consumption, cirrhosis forms. Cirrhosis is scar tissue that cannot be repaired and is the direct link to liver cancer. Alcohol also blocks folate from absorbing properly in the colon. This is a clear indicator that a colon cancer diagnosis is likely to follow.
So what does that mean for you? Does that mean it’s pertinent to cut out all forms of alcohol? The short answer is no. But it is important to understand how much alcohol is too much, because the more you drink over time, the greater your risk for GI cancer. All doctors agree that too much alcohol can be defined by binge drinking. This means three or more alcoholic beverages at one time or more than eight drinks in one week for a woman. For men, binge drinking is defined as more than four drinks at one time and more than 15 drinks in one week. One drink is defined as a 12 oz. beer, 5 oz. of wine, and 1.5 oz. of liquor. Even though you may be able to avoid the opportunity to binge drink, light drinking can still be harmful to your body. In fact, research states that your risk of head and neck cancers increases by 13% by light drinking and a risk for breast cancer increases by 4% due to light drinking. On the flip side, heavy drinking raises your risk by 500% for head and neck cancer and 61% for breast cancer.
Before you order your next alcoholic beverage or grab a glass of wine to unwind after work, consider the potential harm alcohol can have on your body. There is no form of alcohol that is beneficial to your health in any way—even the old saying that red wine is good for your heart is now thought of as just a myth. Take care of your body in the best way that you can, and avoid situations where you might be tempted to drink more alcohol than usual.