Most people try to reduce their risk of developing cancer by eating well, exercising, and avoiding sugar and toxic chemicals. Do you consider drinking alcohol to be a cancer-causing habit, or do you?
In a new large study published in PLOS Medicine, researchers asked more than 99,000 older adults about their drinking habits over nine years. The key finding is that drinking just two to three glasses of alcohol per day can increase your cancer risk.
That’s perhaps news to you since some 70 percent of Americans don’t realize their drinking habits could contribute to their cancer risk, according to a survey conducted by the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
But roughly 5 to 6 percent of new cancers or cancer deaths worldwide are directly tied to alcohol use. To put this in perspective, approximately 19% of all new cancer cases in America are due to smoking, and as high as 9.5 percent due to obesity.
The new PLOS Medicine study shows that drinking one to two drinks per day doesn’t seem so bad. It is best to limit your intake to no more than three drinks per week.
Light drinkers, those who drank one to three drinks per day, were the most at risk of developing cancer or dying young among their 99,000+ participants.
Light drinkers were actually less likely to get cancer than those who abstain.
We’re here to help you understand the confusing information available about how many cocktail napkins you should include in your weekly indulgences.
For those who enjoy their wine, the news that light drinkers are at the lowest risk of developing cancer is great news. But Noelle LoConte, MD, an oncologist at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center, is quick to point out that a reduced risk doesn’t equal zero risks.
LoConte clarifies that even moderate alcohol intake does not protect you from cancer.
However, the study authors point out that these findings do not mean that people who don’t drink alcohol should quit drinking. Nondrinkers may be at greater risk of developing the disease than light drinkers if they are not able to stop drinking for medical reasons. LoConte added that they might be recovering from an alcohol abuse disorder or have already caused damage to their system.
This study confirms that drinking red wine or beer with friends is not going to harm your health. As long as you follow the guidelines of your doctor, you are considered healthy. This is what we know:
Research has shown that imbibers have stronger immune systems, stronger bones, and lower diabetes risk.
Protecting your heart is the most popular area of research. A 2015 study trusted Source review confirms light drinking might actually help protect against coronary artery disease, which contributes to stroke and heart failure.
Alcohol benefits your heart by reducing inflammation, the hardening and narrowing of your arteries, and the formation of blood clots — all factors associated with coronary artery disease, explains Sandra Gonzalez, Ph.D., instructor in the department of family and community medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.
But, as research in BMC MedicineTrusted Source points out, the benefit only holds for those who stick to moderate drinking and don’t go overboard.
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Gonzalez says that alcohol consumption must be kept within the recommended daily and weekly limits to ensure it is considered healthy and low-risk.
The Dietary Guidelines for AmericansTrusted Source defines moderate alcohol consumption as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
We are sure that this will change your excitement about wine and book club.
Unfortunately, you cannot choose between a weekly or daily count. “You can’t ‘batch’ your drinks. You can drink six bottles of wine on Saturday if you don’t drink anything for five days. It’s zero or one, or zero or two per day, period,” says LoConte.
Binge drinking is when you consume more drinks than this, i.e., four to five drinks for men and five for women, typically within two hours.
Regularly knocking ’em back comes with a whole laundry list of health risks trusted Source like higher risk for heart disease, stroke, liver disease, alcohol use disorder, and, as that new study highlighted, cancer and premature death.
But some researchTrusted Source reports that even just one night of overdoing it can cause bacteria to leak from your gut and increase levels of toxins in your blood. This can damage your immune system, and even make you sick.
We know that it is unfair for women to be allowed one more glass of wine per night. Because we are all different physiologically, the recommendations for men and ladies are different. Some of the recommendations are based on body weight, but it’s much more complex than that. Men are generally heavier than women, and their bodies have less water. Gonzalez explains that women are more likely to be exposed to the toxic effects of alcohol and its byproducts if alcohol is not diluted in their bodies.
Tips for drinking healthy amounts
- Drinking more than two or three drinks per day can increase your risk of developing heart disease and cancer.
- Limit your alcohol intake to one drink per day for women, and two for men in order to lower your risk of developing cancer. Keep to your daily limit. You don’t have to drink as many drinks yesterday as you did yesterday.
- A drink is 12 ounces regular beer, 1.5-ounces liquor, or 5 ounces wine.
- While we’ve heard of wine’s health benefits for years, many studies have shown beer to be just as beneficial. Gonzalez says that it doesn’t matter what type of alcohol you drink, but how much.
Remember that a single serving of pure alcohol is 14 grams. This is:
- 12 ounces regular beer
- 5 ounces wine
- 1.5 ounces 80-proof liquor
We’d wager that you believe one glass of wine is half the amount. This is more than any of these doctors would consider a glass of wine.
People are often shocked when we explain what a standard beverage is. Gonzalez says that many times they are being served drinks that exceed the standard in bars, restaurants, and at home.
According to a BMJ study, the average wine glass size has almost doubled over the past 25 years. This means that our 2018 half-full is closer to 7-10 ounces than 5.
Beer comes in a pre-measured size, with the exact amount clearly marked on the label. Gonzalez says that you need to measure wine and liquor when you drink them.
LoConte explains that it’s “portion control applied to alcohol.”
You might consider buying wine glasses that look more like the ones your grandmother would drink from and less like that Olivia Pope drinks out of. Another study Trusted Source found even if you measure out a five-ounce pour, the bigger the glass, the more likely you are to have a second.
You can also reduce alcohol consumption by increasing the amount.
“One strategy to drink less and enjoy your one glass more is to make your drink last longer by turning it into a cocktail,” says Autumn Bates, a certified clinical nutritionist and recipe developer based in Los Angeles. This will allow you to enjoy a full glass of wine and make you feel less hungry and needy.
Bates’ favorite: Use sugar-free sparkling water to make the base. Add fresh herbs such as rosemary, lavender, and mint. Finally, top it with five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of any liquor you choose. You can add fresh-squeezed juice to give it a bit more sweetness or flavor.
Tips for drinking healthy amounts
- Make sure you measure the alcohol, particularly wine.
- Buy smaller wine glasses. You have a better chance of enjoying more wine if you buy larger glasses.
- To make your drink last longer, add sparkling water.
- Looking for some ideas? These are Bates’ top three cocktails.
Strawberry Mint Sangria
Mix 1 bottle of red wine with 2 sliced limes, 1/2 a cup fresh mint, and 2 cups halved strawberry. Let the mixture sit in the refrigerator for at least six hours, or overnight. Divide the pitcher into six glasses, or pour one-sixth of it into a single glass. Top each glass with 3 oz. Sparkling water
Combine 1 oz. 1 oz. Tequila, 1/4 cup fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, 1/2 lime juice, and 3 oz. Sparkling water in a glass with ice. Garnish with grapefruit wedges and lime slices.
Classic Italian Spritz
Combine 3.5 oz. prosecco, 1.5 oz. Aperol, 1/2 lime juice, and 3 oz. Sparkling water in a wineglass filled with ice. If you like, garnish with a lime peel.