The Risks and Benefits of Alcohol
No amount is safe for me, for sure! No alcohol! Not even one little glass of wine. Once itâ€™s touched my lips, no telling where it might take meâ€¦ Police station? Hospital? Psych ward? Iâ€™d be the one wearing the lampshade and taking dares; the one talking the loudestâ€¦ staying the longestâ€¦ the one who ends up wrapped around a tree, or your significant otherâ€¦
Not so Funny
All kidding aside, itâ€™s been trending that one person dies from alcohol related causes every 10 seconds, according to the World Health Organization. Thatâ€™s not funny at all. In a Medscape journal article, alcoholâ€™s toxicity vs. benefit is weighed, and the old red-wine-antioxidant-benefit fades quickly to the brutal truth. Alcohol breaks down into some nasty chemicals, but no one argues the benefit of taking vitamins laced with arsenic, yet the chemicals in alcohol and itâ€™s byproducts, once in your system, are quite toxic. Like arsenic, small doses wonâ€™t kill you for awhile, but the cumulative effects of chronic drinking can prove fatal in several ways. Some studies suggest there is arsenic in alcohol and cigarettes!
The Big â€œCâ€ Word?
Many would guest the dreaded â€˜Câ€™ word cause of death for alcoholics is cirrhosis of the liver. Thatâ€™s what I and my friends always thought. And yes, that does happen to many. But what most donâ€™t realize is that thereâ€™s another â€˜Câ€™ word causing alcohol related deaths, cancer.
â€œWe have known for a long time that alcohol causes esophageal cancer, but the relationship with other tumors, such as breast cancer, has come to our attention only in the past 10-15 years.â€ says JÃ¼rgen Rehm, PhD, World Cancer Report contributor on alcohol consumption, and Senior Scientist at the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in the journal article.
Though all the mechanisms of how alcohol and cancer are related still need to be explored further, some things are known absolutely. Cancer-causing chemicals in alcohol include: acetaldehyde, acrylamide, aflatoxins, arsenic, benzene, cadmium, ethanol, ethyl carbamate, formaldehyde, and lead; all essentially poisons. Acetaldehyde, formed as the alcohol breaks down in oneâ€™s system, is a carcinogenic and toxic to the mucosa of the pharynx, oral cavity, esophagus, and larynx. Even at low doses, contact with these chemicals increases the risk of cancer. At higher doses, the risk becomes even more severe, especially for cancers of the mouth, colon-rectum, liver, and female breast cancer. Pancreatic cancer? The more one drinks, the more significant the risk becomes, definitively.
Other common cancers that are believed to be linked to alcohol consumption levels include: bladder, lung, stomach, skin cancers, leukemia, and multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer), although more research needs to be done to prove that absolutely. Such is also the case for cancers of the bladder, lung, and stomach, although there is conflicting data. Ladies? Cancers of the cervix, vulva, and vagina are also believed to be alcohol/dose related.
Although studies where imbibers self-report the amount they drink may be somewhat affected by the fact many report less than they actually drink; it is believed that some of these cancers occur in those who drink even moderately. Does that amount of risk outweigh the benefits of those antioxidants found in red wine? Some researchers say yes. Better to be safe then sorry, but reducing the amount one drinks at least will significantly lower the risk of contracting these cancers. Beer and wine verses hard alcohol? The only place that seems to matter is in the esophagus; where the fine cilia that cover it are easily destroyed by the higher concentrations of ethanol in the harder stuff. The areas of the body the alcohol reaches first, the oral cavity, then esophagus, for example, are the most affected.
Some of the risk factors to be considered in validating the research include other behaviors related to drinking, like smoking when it comes to lung cancer, or poor nutrition, a common side affect of alcoholism. Alcohol can increase estrogen levels and growth factor receptors, stimulating mammary cell proliferation, effecting breast cancer. Alcohol can also act as a solvent of tobacco carcinogens, opening up more avenues for cancers to form.
What about Cardiovascular Benefits?
The cardiovascular benefits of modest drinking are only to those whoâ€™s light consumption is limited to a glass of preferably red wine consumed before or with a meal. Thereâ€™s no room for episodic or binge drinking, or other deviations from that. Thatâ€™s the clincher, as the harm comes from those who canâ€™t adhere to those guidelines. I would make an educated guess that most canâ€™t. We live in, after all, a society that champions â€œmore is better.â€ The risks for those who canâ€™t are high enough that there is no conscionable way to recommend drinking as a benefit for anything. Hypertension, atrial fibrillation, ischemic, and hemorrhagic stroke, along with other potentially harmful consequences that come from heavier drinking, just arenâ€™t worth the risk, according to the article.
â€œI do not know why a beneficial link would be more important than a detrimental link, if the beneficial link overall is about one tenth of the detrimental link,â€ said Rehm â€œWe have counted how many studies are reported in the press, and there are many more reports on the beneficial link than on the detrimental link between alcohol and health.â€
One could easily guess the answer to that. Perhaps other ways of obtaining antioxidants would be more beneficial, especially when added to healthy lifestyle choices like improved diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and stress reduction.