The fact that heavy drinking can wreak havoc on your health comes as no surprise to most people. However, new research suggests that it's not just binge drinking that could be making you susceptible to serious health issues—experts say that even more moderate alcohol consumption may pose serious risks to your wellbeing. In fact, experts at the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services now warn that alcohol is a known human carcinogen. "The evidence indicates that the more alcohol a person drinks—particularly the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time—the higher his or her risk of developing an alcohol-associated cancer," adds the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
But just how much alcohol is too much when it comes to your cancer risk? One recent study has the answer—and if you drink this amount, you may be at increased risk for three types of cancer in particular. Read on to find out if your drinking habits could be putting you in harm's way.
Having just one drink a day increases your risk of esophageal, gastric, and colorectal cancer.
Most people know that health authorities and medical professionals highly recommend erring on the side of moderation when it comes to drinking alcohol. However, research suggests that regularly consuming alcohol—even in the smallest serving sizes—may pose a serious threat to your health. According to a 2017 study published in the journal PLOS One, which reviewed data from over 23 million individuals, "light drinking including even one alcoholic drink a day" can increase your risk of esophageal, gastric and colorectal cancer.
That said, having one drink per day is still far better for your cancer risk than regularly consuming more. "The evidence indicates that the more alcohol a person drinks—particularly the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time—the higher his or her risk of developing an alcohol-associated cancer," says the NCI.
Alcohol is one of the most "well-established causes of cancer."
Though tobacco is frequently (and justly) blamed for many preventable cancers, the study's researchers note that alcohol is another of the most "well-established causes" for the disease.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that the consumption of alcohol can raise your risk of several additional types of cancer. In addition to those mentioned in the study, the CDC says drinking alcohol can lead to cancer of the mouth and throat, voice box, liver, and breasts. "All types of alcoholic drinks, including red and white wine, beer, cocktails, and liquor, are linked with cancer. The more you drink, the higher your cancer risk," the health authority warns.
Alcohol can cause serious damage to your DNA.
Though some people may be aware of the link between alcohol consumption and cancer, fewer understand how one may cause the other.
The answer, the CDC says, has to do with a chemical commonly referred to as acetaldehyde, sometimes called ethanal. "When you drink alcohol, your body breaks it down into a chemical called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde damages your DNA and prevents your body from repairing the damage. DNA is the cell's 'instruction manual' that controls a cell's normal growth and function. When DNA is damaged, a cell can begin growing out of control and create a cancer tumor," the CDC explains.
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Abstaining from alcohol can lower health risks significantly.
For years, competing studies have debated the benefits of drinking certain types of alcohol in moderation—most commonly red wine. However, research suggests that the benefits do not negate the risks, and abstinence is best. "Any potential benefits of alcohol consumption for reducing the risks of some cancers are likely outweighed by the harms of alcohol consumption," writes the NCI.
A 2018 study published in the journal The Lancet, which utilized data from over 1,000 alcohol studies and data records on death and disability in 195 countries, corroborates these findings. "The level of alcohol consumption that minimized harm across health outcomes was zero standard drinks per week," the researchers wrote.
Not sure you're ready to quit drinking entirely? Begin by adhering to the CDC's guidelines for healthier drinking habits, which advise that adults of legal drinking age should consume no more than two drinks per day for men, and no more than one drink per day for women.