Even having this type of drink in moderation could put you at higher risk for cancer

Recently, Ladders reported on The American Cancer Society’s updated list of the dietary and lifestyle factors that may reduce one’s risk of developing cancer. 

Although the authors advised readers to steer clear of booze completely; their amended assessment allowed for one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men: defined as 12 ounces of regular beer, five ounces of wine, and a 1.5-ounce shot of distilled spirits or liquor.

On the back of this, a new paper, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs  concluded that even those who adhere to government intake guidelines dramatically increase their risk of developing cancer over time. 

From the report:

“Drinkers following weekly LRDGs are not insulated from harm. Greater than 50% of alcohol-caused cancer deaths are experienced by those drinking within weekly limits. Findings suggest that guidelines of around one drink per day may be appropriate for high-income countries.”

Implications for Countries  Using the International Model of Alcohol Harms and Policies

The findings were supported by a  meta-analysis that reviewed records of all overnight hospital stays that were documented in British Columbia back in 2014.

The data set included all recorded deaths, disease transmissions, and hospitalizations attributed to alcohol use. 

After applying The Canadian Substance Use Exposure Database to the statistics above, the authors were able to estimate levels and patterns of alcohol use by age and gender and subsequently segment participants into four groups: Lifetime abstainers, people who used to drink but haven’t had alcohol in at least a year, people who drink within the low-risk guidelines, and people who drink above the guidelines.

Thirty-eight percent of the 2,000 alcohol-related deaths that occurred in the time period observed in the study belonged to individuals who had given up alcohol or who drank within the government guidelines of one to two drinks a day. 

Nearly 75% of the alcohol-related hospitalizations also belonged to these two groups and the same was true of more than 50% of the cancer deaths the researchers attributed to alcohol use.

“Many countries propose low-risk drinking guidelines (LRDGs) to mitigate alcohol-related harms. North American LRDGs are high by international standards,” the authors write in the new report. “More men (18%) than women (7%) drank above weekly guidelines. Adherence to guidelines did not eliminate alcohol-caused harm: those drinking within guidelines nonetheless experienced 140 more deaths and 3,663 more hospital stays than if they had chosen to abstain from alcohol. A weighted relative risk analysis found that, for both women and men, the risk was lowest at a consumption level of 10 g per day. For all levels of consumption, men were found to experience a higher weighted relative risk than women.

Even though it’s hard to argue against the mounting epidemiological evidence in support of complete abstinence, some of the studies published in the last few years on the topic were burdened by some notable limitations. The latest is no exception. 

The most glaring one pertains to the exclusion of compounding factors. What about people who moderately drink but who also exercise regularly? Or subscribe to a healthy diet? What about heavy drinkers who are non-smokers? None of these potential aggravators were included in the analysis.

“Between 80 and 90 percent of alcoholics are also smokers. How do we know that the alcohol caused a given cancer, and not smoking, genetics, family history, and so forth? If you look at all cancers the researchers attribute to alcohol, they’re also attributable to smoking,” Tiffany Sizemore-Ruiz, MD, a board-certified cardiologist, and medical advisor to the Distilled Spirits Council, explained in Healthline.

CW Headley is a reporter for the Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com