Michelle C Madzudzo
HUMAN relationship with alcohol stretches back thousands of years, but this long relationship does not necessarily mean a healthy one. We know that alcohol damages our health in a number of ways. The one we are most concerned with as Talk Cancer Zim is its impact on cancer risk!
Does alcohol consumption increase cancer risk?
Risk starts to increase with increased alcohol consumption. The more you can cut down, the more you can reduce the risk. Research shows that excessive drinking of alcohol increases risk of cancer whether you drink it all in one go or spread it through the week.
Whatever your drinking habits, cutting down will reduce risk. Cutting down has lots of benefits other than reducing your cancer risk, including risk of accidents, high blood pressure and liver disease.
What cancers can it cause?
Not everyone who drinks alcohol will develop cancer, but people who drink alcohol are most likely to develop certain cancers.
Although it is not yet fully understood why alcohol can cause some cancers and not others, the following cancers can be attributed to alcohol use: Bowel, breast, larynx, pharynx, pancreatic and esophagus.
Heavy drinking can also cause cirrhosis of the liver which can lead to liver cancer. It is important to note that it is the alcohol itself that causes damage leading to any of these cancers; what type of alcohol you drink does not really matter.
Scientists have not identified any single mechanism that explains exactly why alcohol increase risk of developing cancer, however, they have identified a number of factors likely to play a role.
Acetaldehyde: When you drink, the alcohol in your body is converted into a toxic chemical acetaldehyde, which then damages your cells leading to cancer.
Oestrogen and other hormones: Alcohol increases level of hormones in the body, especially estrogen which is linked to breast cancer.
Folate: Alcohol drinkers have low levels of folate, an important vitamin that help cells produce new DNA correctly, studies found out that cancers are more common in people with low levels of folate in blood.
Are there benefits of drinking alcohol?
In Zimbabwe, alcohol consumption is a public health problem. Despite some possible benefits for ischemic heart disease and diabetes from consuming low amounts of alcohol, harmful alcohol consumption has been linked to more than 200 diseases and injury conditions, which include cirrhosis, infectious diseases, cardiovascular diseases, early dementia, fetal alcohol syndrome and cancers.
Some studies have suggested that drinking a little bit of alcohol may be good for health due to a group of chemical compounds called polyphenols. But did you know that you can find these compounds in a lot of other things such as berries! My personal advice is for you to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to maintain a healthy body. Most recent research has found that any protective effect of alcohol is ultimately outweighed by the associated health risk.
We have been told a lot in recent years about protective effect of moderate alcohol use, it is a message that people are eager to hear. When drunk to excess and over a long period of time, alcohol can damage the liver as well as increase cancer risk. But no matter how much alcohol causes cancer, one thing is clear, people still want to know, how much alcohol is too much!
When it comes to alcohol consumption regular and repeated exposure for decades adds up to make a difference in cancer risk. What’s clear is that the biggest dangers come if you have more than four drinks a day.
I am forced to conclude that the health risks of drinking alcohol far outweigh the so called benefits. Do not fool yourself much that your excessive drinking is good for you, it facilitates social interaction, yes it makes you temporarily less anxious; but good for your health, seems doubtful! Whether you drink or not staying in good shape is your best bet for health.