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Like Sugar, Alcohol Increases Your Risk of Cancer

drinking beer

Story at-a-glance -

  • Alcohol consumption not only drives up your net carbohydrate intake, and thus glucose, but also releases toxic acetaldehyde as a first metabolite
  • Even light use of alcohol is linked to cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon and, in women, breast
  • Carbohydrates in alcohol contribute to an increased amount of blood sugar, also linked to the development and progression of cancer

By Dr. Mercola

Nearly one-third of Americans are obese, incurring an estimated annual medical cost of $147 billion.1 According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2014 there was no state with a prevalence of obesity less than 20 percent.2

This is shockingly different from the CDC numbers from 1990, at which time no state had a prevalence of obesity equal to or greater than 15 percent.3

The rise in obesity rates may be attributed to a number of different factors, from eating more energy than your body requires, to moving less or eating the wrong types of foods.

Carbohydrates are not burned efficiently in the body and often leave you hungrier just a couple hours later. Alcohol is a carbohydrate. Studies have published opposing results, from recommending a glass of wine each night with dinner to total abstinence for good health.

Some of the discrepancies may be related to the amount of alcohol consumed during the studies. A recent study now links alcohol with the development of seven different types of cancer.

Cancer Risk Rises With Alcohol Consumption

In a paper published in Addiction, researchers found strong evidence that alcohol was routinely linked to cancers in the rectum, liver, colon, esophagus, oropharynx, larynx and, in women, the breast.4

The epidemiological study suggested that alcohol contributed to cancers in up to 5.8 percent of all cancer deaths worldwide. The research did not identify the biological causation between alcohol and cancers in these seven sites, but the researchers felt:5

"Confirmation of specific biological mechanisms by which alcohol increases the incidence of each type of cancer is not required to infer that alcohol is a cause."

The percentage of deaths related to alcohol and cancer increased by 62 percent in the past 12 years, up from 3.6 percent in 2003 to 5.8 percent in 2015 worldwide.6

This increase may be the result of other factors in the lives of people who suffer from cancer triggered by alcohol, such as poor dietary choices, lack of exercise and poor sleep quality.

In order to assign causation of cancer to alcohol, study participants would have to randomly be assigned to drink or abstain over the course of their life. Instead, researchers have studied a large body of epidemiological data that comes as close as it can to linking alcohol with cancer.

Another study linked even light drinking to the same list of cancer types.7 Researchers reviewed the cases of nearly 136,000 men and women over a 30-year period and found those who had smoked, even if they had quit, had higher rates of cancer related to drinking than those who had never smoked.

This study found smoking was an important contributor to the development of these cancers when linked with alcohol.

Breast Cancer Recurrence Linked to Alcohol

The American Cancer Society also warns that even a few drinks each week can increase your risk of breast cancer.8 The risk is higher in women who have low folate levels. Other research links the recurrence of breast cancer with alcohol intake.9

Both of these links appear to be from the ability of alcohol to raise your estrogen level. Alcohol also affects hormones in men. Chronic alcohol use is associated with testicular failure and male infertility.10,11 Feminine symptoms in men suggest that alcohol may also contain biologically active phytoestrogens.12

Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring in some plants, such as soy, flax seed, wheat, lentils and sesame seeds. These phytoestrogens are structurally similar to the estrogen your body produces, and bind loosely on estrogen receptors.

Although studies in Asia link soy-based products with lower breast cancer rates, those same results have not been reproduced in the U.S.13 This difference may be related to the different types and amount of phytoestrogen plant-based products consumed between the two countries.14

Increasing rates of estrogen in the body are also linked with an increased rate of cell growth, important in the development and progression of prostate cancer and some breast cancers.15,16

Each of these effects have been observed in people who are drinking only moderately.17 This means drinking only light to moderate amounts of alcohol does not negate your risk of breast cancer in women or prostate cancer in men.

Preliminary findings from these studies suggest that if you have been diagnosed with breast cancer or prostate cancer, and especially if you are overweight or postmenopausal, it would be a good idea to cut back or eliminate your alcohol intake.

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Colon Cancer Affecting More People Under 50

Colon cancer is also linked to the consumption of alcohol. In a study published in the journal Cancer, researchers found that 1 out of 7 of those diagnosed with colon cancer were under the age of 50.18 Current guidelines list age 50 as the time when colon cancer screenings should begin.

The cancers in younger people appear to be found after they develop symptoms of the disease, such as bowel blockage, bloody stools and anemia.

The links between colon cancer and alcohol consumption are well established in the research. The International Agency for Research into Cancer (IARC) classified alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen in 1988.19

Group 1 is the IARC's highest risk category, meaning there is substantial evidence alcohol causes cancer. A study published in 2011 found 4 percent of cancers in the U.K. could be attributed to alcohol.

The proportion was greatest for mouth and throat cancers, but colorectal cancers had the greatest overall number of cases linked to alcohol use.20,21

Another study, published in Nutrition and Cancer in 2004, found a 70 percent greater risk of developing colon cancer when participants drank one or more alcoholic drinks per day.22 The type of alcohol was not a factor. In other words, whether the participants drank beer, wine or hard liquor, the increased risk remained the same.

Another study evaluated patients who had a previous history of a specific type of colorectal polyps called adenomas. The researchers found alcohol intake significantly increased the risk of developing another colorectal adenoma with a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer.23

Your Risk Starts in Your Mouth

One instrument in the development of cancer from alcohol is the effect acetaldehyde has on your DNA. Acetaldehyde is a metabolite of alcohol that can damage DNA and stop your body from repairing the damage. This metabolite is linked more closely with cancer in your mouth, larynx, pharynx, esophagus and liver.24

Typically alcohol is broken down in your liver, where acetaldehyde is formed. This chemical causes your liver cells to grow more rapidly, sometimes genetically mutated.25

This process can cause liver cancer. Alcohol can also be broken down by the bacteria living in your mouth and gut. This increases the amount of acetaldehyde your mouth, pharynx, larynx and esophagus are exposed to, increasing cellular DNA damage and increasing your risk of oral cancer.26

Other sources of acetaldehyde include tobacco and food flavorings. Alcohol has been identified as a significant direct source, and researchers are calling for public health measures to reduce the content of acetaldehyde in alcohol in an effort to reduce the risk of cancers.27

Sugar Is a Key Contributor

Alcohol is a carbohydrate and your body metabolizes it into sugar, raising your risk of high blood sugar and insulin resistance. As it holds no real nutritional value, alcohol may also be categorized as empty calories. These empty calories also contribute to a growing obesity problem in the world.

Alcohol is one of those carbohydrate-rich foods that may double your risk of developing cancers by both increasing your exposure to acetaldehyde and increasing your risk of obesity. A study by the Credit Suisse Research Institute in 2013, "Sugar: Consumption at a Crossroads," found that 40 percent of U.S. healthcare expenditures are for diseases directly related to the overconsumption of sugar.28

Recently researchers also linked new cancer cases in adults 30 years and older with high body mass index (BMI) or being overweight or obese. Twenty-five percent of the cancer cases in 2012 could be directly attributed to the increase in BMI since 1992.29

Both sugar metabolism and cancer cells thrive in an anaerobic environment. In fact, without sugar, many cancers are unable to metabolically produce enough energy to survive. When you reduce your net carbs (total carbs minus fiber), you effectively starve cancer cells.

However, one can of beer has 13 grams of carbohydrates, one 5-ounce glass of wine has 4 grams and a 5-ounce cocktail has 10 grams of carbohydrates.30 You can see that just one glass of alcohol each day can make a significant non-nutritional dent in your carbohydrate intake, contributing to obesity and insulin resistance and cancer.

The Case for Nutritional Ketosis in Cancer Treatment

In the video above, Travis Christofferson, author of the book "Tripping Over the Truth: The Return of the Metabolic Theory of Cancer Illuminates a New and Hopeful Path to a Cure," discusses the evidence showing how nutritional ketosis helps prevent and treat most cancers.

Contrary to conventional teaching, nuclear genetic defects do not cause cancer. Mitochondrial damage happens first, which then triggers nuclear genetic mutations. Nutritional ketosis, which calls for eating a diet high in high-quality healthy fats while significantly limiting net carbs, boosts mitochondrial function. Healthy mitochondrial burn fat very effectively, as it's a far more ideal fuel than sugar.

+ Sources and References