Cancer and Alcohol: the Very Real Connection

I read another article this week adding to the several studies I’ve read showing that alcohol is no bueno if you have had cancer or if you want to avoid getting cancer. We all love a cocktail or a glass of wine and I don’t mean to be a party pooper, but the sad news is that if you’ve had cancer and want to give yourself the best odds of permanent remission, or the best odds of not getting cancer in the first place, you really should abstain or at the very least cut back on alcohol.

I have heard of cancer doctors telling their patients that it doesn’t make a difference and to go ahead and eat and drink whatever you like. This is not what the research shows and any doctor who says that is not current on the data. There are multiple studies including the landmark 30 year Nurses Health Study which showed more than one drink a day increases risk of cancer.

The article I read this week is a recent study just published last month, specifically about the link of alcohol and breast cancer. From the World Cancer Research Fund, “Published in May 2017, the report is the most rigorous, systematic, global analysis of the scientific research currently available on diet, weight, physical activity and breast cancer, and which of these factors increase or decrease the risk of developing the disease.

For the report, the global scientific research on diet, nutrition, physical activity and breast cancer was gathered and analysed by a research team at Imperial College London, and then independently assessed by a panel of leading international scientists.

The report reviewed evidence from 119 studies from around the world. The studies examined more than 12 million women and over 260,000 cases of breast cancer.”

The findings show that there is strong evidence that alcohol increases the risk of both premenopausal and postmenopausal breast cancer. Additionally, the report backs up previous evidence that alcohol causes 7 types of cancer including breast, mouth and bowel cancers.

How much is okay?

The fact of the matter is the less alcohol you drink, the lower the risk of cancer. No type of alcohol is better or worse than another, it is the alcohol itself that leads to the damage, regardless of whether it is in wine, beer or spirits. And drinking and smoking together is even worse for you.

Even half a glass of wine increases your chances. The report found evidence that drinking an extra small glass of wine every day (10g of alcohol) increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer after menopause by 9%.

The good news is that there was evidence that eating more leafy vegetables, such as cabbage, spinach and kale, decreased the risk of a less common kind of breast cancer. And being physically active also helps your odds considerably.

The bottom line.

Since there are multiple factors at play, a healthy lifestyle is what is important. ‘Everything in moderation,’ as they say. The advice is that some days should have no alcohol and when you do have some, no more than one glass.

Personally, I’ve chosen to abstain after getting diagnosed with two cancers back-to-back with no family history and no genetic markers. It came out of the blue since I was living a very healthy lifestyle, eating lots of vegetables, was a healthy weight and was active.

Now that I’m in remission, I’m always concerned the cancers could come back as both are incurable. The last thing I want to do is create an environment through my lifestyle choices that could make it easier for cancer to thrive. Quitting drinking alcohol seemed like a no-brainer.

How to cut back?

I didn’t drink a lot to begin with so cutting out the occasional glass of wine with dinner wasn’t too difficult (although I do sometimes long for a glass when I’ve had a stressful day). But to be honest, it took a bit of getting used to in social situations. I felt awkward without a cup in my hand at parties. It was also awkward to be at parties and realize people were getting tipsy and I wasn’t. And I wondered if people may not be inviting me out “for a drink” since they knew I don’t drink anymore.

What I decided I needed was a signature non-alcoholic drink to carry around at parties. And I decided it needed to be bubbly. I played around with “mocktails” by mixing a healthy juice like pomegranate with San Pellegrino mineral water and thought that was pretty good. Then I went to Mexico and had Limonada Minerale, which was basically the same idea with lime juice. Super yum!

There are more and more non-sweetened juice and bubbly water products on the market these days. I bring them to parties so I know that I have something to drink since I don’t drink traditional sodas that people usually have on hand (sugar and chemicals = ick!). I pour the flavored bubbly water into a cocktail glass, add a lime wedge and drink it all night.

I also started making my own kombucha, which is a fermented bubbly drink with the added benefit of probiotics. I often drink that in the afternoons as an after work “mocktail”. Making kombucha is super easy – I will be writing a blog post on it soon.

In the comments below let me know how you feel about reducing your alcohol intake to increase your health. Would you give it up?


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Sue - June 7, 2017

We like to drink Pellegrino with fresh squeezed lime and fresh grated ginger root and we always tote it to our social occasions. People are impressed and want to try it too. I keep my ginger root in the freezer so I always have it on hand. Thanks for your great informative blogging Laren

    Laren - June 7, 2017

    Thanks Sue! Adding ginger to the lime sounds great! I will have to try that. My favorite kombucha that I make is cranberry, pomegranate and ginger!

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