Can Drinking Increase The Likelihood Of Cancer Or Death?

By Maggie Ethridge 06/28/18
A new study examined how alcohol consumption affects one's health.
person nursing a glass of alcohol

Scientists have long-proven that drinking heavily is bad for your health and increases the risk of death, but does lighter drinking carry the same risk? A new study illuminates this mystery.

The study, published in PLOS Medicine, found that those who drink the most have the highest risks of death and cancer.

On the opposite spectrum, the study found that a person's combined risk of dying younger or developing cancer is actually lowest among light drinkers. The study defines this as a person consuming one to three alcoholic drinks weekly. The risk for cancer or death increases with just one drink added to the week.

Light drinkers had a lower combined risk of death or cancer when compared with non-drinkers, but the study did not look at why.

The data from the study concluded that the average lifetime alcohol intake reported among the adults was 1.78 drinks per week. Men reported that they drink more—at 4.02 drinks per week—than women (0.80 drinks per week).

The study showed that for both women and men, risk of death was lowest among those who consumed less than 0.5 drinks per day.

"The reasons for the reduced risk in light drinkers compared to never drinkers are still open to debate amongst the scientific community," said Dr. Andrew Kunzmann, a research fellow at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland and lead author of the study, according to CNN. "Some have suggested that alcohol may have cardio-protective effects that may reduce risk of cardiovascular disease.”

The data for the study came from the U.S. Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial, covering 99,654 adults between the ages of 55 and 74 in the United States.

The recommended alcoholic intake in the U.S. is two or fewer drinks a day for men, and one drink a day for women, per the American Cancer Society and the American Institute For Cancer Research. The study's researchers suggest that this new data might call for a redefining of those recommendations.

On the overall view of the study, Dr. Noelle LoConte, an oncologist and associate professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said to CNN, "I think it reinforces what we already knew, which is moderate and heavy drinking is bad universally for cancer."

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.