Alcohol consumption is a very popular pastime across most cultures and countries despite many warnings of the health and social risks associated with drinking. About half the global population drinks alcohol, with most adults drinking moderately, and the remaining 10-20% being binge drinkers or heavy chronic drinkers. With such high popularity, it is unlikely people will stop drinking alcohol anytime soon. Instead, a more realistic aspiration may be for us to become better informed and take up healthier drinking habits.
Benefits versus Negatives
It can be very confusing trying to figure out whether alcohol is good or bad for our health. There are some research studies that say light-to-moderate drinking in middle-aged and older adults may have benefits such as lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and type-2 diabetes. The Mayo Clinic defines moderate drinking as one drink per day for all women and men aged 65 and older, and up to two drinks daily for men younger than age 65. Despite the benefits claimed, there are also many studies that link alcohol to negative outcomes, and which seem to outweigh the benefits. In any case, exercise and better nutrition would provide even more positive outcomes than the benefits that alcohol consumption may possibly provide.
Alcohol’s Link to Cancer
In December 2016, the Swedish Society of Medicine reported that nearly 30% of alcohol-induced cancer cases in Sweden were due to light-to-moderate levels of alcohol consumption. Additionally, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has reported that enough evidence exists to conclude alcohol causes cancers of the mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon and rectum, female breast, and stomach. Most studies show the risk of cancer rises as alcohol consumption increases.
Alcohol-Related Cancer is Growing
Alcohol related cancer is becoming more common, with new cancer cases projected to grow to over 20 million per year by 2025. Over recent decades, alcohol-related cancer has grown to 6% of total cancer cases and deaths. Alcohol-related cancer cases are higher in the Western Pacific (East Asia, Australia, etc.), European, and South-East Asia World Health Organization (WHO) regions. As an example, in Sweden in 2014, 4% of all cancer deaths and 10% of breast cancer deaths were found to be alcohol-related. Overall, alcohol-related cancer deaths in Sweden have increased by 7% since 2001.
Role of Acetaldehyde
Why is acetaldehyde such a toxic villain? Acetaldehyde is a byproduct of alcohol, and both alcohol and acetaldehyde have been labeled as Group 1 carcinogens by WHO. Acetaldehyde is carcinogenic and interferes with the body’s ability to replicate DNA and repair damaged DNA. This makes it harder for the body to accurately regenerate itself, which is a primary driver in the development of tumors and cancer. Alcohol and acetaldehyde also promote the growth of existing tumors because their toxic effect can cause uncontrolled growth of cells and DNA-damaging free radicals.
Mixing Alcohol and Cigarettes
Many people enjoy smoking while drinking. Unfortunately, when alcohol and tobacco are consumed together, the risk of cancer increases greatly. This is particularly true for upper respiratory and digestive tract cancers. Tobacco use is the greatest contributor to global cancer cases, followed by alcohol consumption according to WHO. Both alcohol and cigarette smoking results in higher concentrations of toxic acetaldehyde entering the body. Even when we aren't smoking and drinking, acetaldehyde can be found everywhere in our modern environment. It's also found in air pollution and in lower concentrations in everyday foods and diet such as coffee, tea, fruits, and high-sugar foods.
Is Alcohol More Damaging to Certain People?
Alcohol is more damaging for women because of the smaller quantity of liver enzymes women produce to break down alcohol. Women also have less water in the body, resulting in greater toxicity and blood alcohol content. Alcohol is also more damaging to young adults because the brain continues to develop until age 25 and alcohol interferes with brain development. Adolescent brains are especially vulnerable to alcohol damage.
Sensitivity to alcohol is highly individual and hard to predict. This is because any genetic predisposition for a health condition can be worsened by alcohol. For example, 40% of the global Asian population have ALDH2 Deficiency and turn red when drinking alcohol (called Asian Glow) because they cannot metabolize acetaldehyde efficiently. The good news is that people with ALDH2 Deficiency have lower rates of alcoholism. But the bad news is they suffer higher rates of esophageal cancer (2x more), liver cirrhosis (3x more) and Alzheimer’s (1.5x more) even if they don't drink much alcohol or drink at all.
Is There a Safe Level of Alcohol We Can Drink?
Alcohol is closely linked to approximately 60 different diagnoses in which the more you drink, the higher your risk of disease. According to WHO, the ideal level of alcohol is to drink none at all. Studies show that even at very low levels of alcohol consumption, a person’s health can still be affected. And so there isn’t really a “safe” level of alcohol to drink, and less is always better.
What about moderate drinking?
New research has shown that even moderate drinking can have negative impact on cognitive function. In this research, moderate drinking is classified at 8 - 12 drinks per week. What the research found is, over time, a decrease in size of the part of the brain responsible for memory. While the decrease is small, it is unknown how dramatic of an effect this has on cognition.
What Can We Do to Live and Drink Healthier?
The key is to avoid toxins and carcinogens such as acetaldehyde. It is possible to reverse the higher risk of cancer by quitting cigarettes and alcohol altogether, but the reversal can take decades. But if we choose not to quit these habits, it is still helpful to limit acetaldehyde levels in our bodies by moderating our cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption and exposure to air pollution.
5 Tips for Healthier Drinking and Living:
- Drink slowly to give the body more time to process the alcohol and acetaldehyde.
- Before drinking, eat a high carbohydrate, high protein meal to slow the rate of alcohol absorption in the stomach.
- Avoid eating a high fat meal before drinking. Fat and alcohol are metabolized in the same pathway, and fat interferes with the breakdown of alcohol and acetaldehyde.
- Exercise. The more muscle tissue we have, the lower our blood alcohol content. Lean muscle also burns alcohol faster since it needs more fuel.
- Fight off acetaldehyde. To reduce acetaldehyde accumulation, take a daily dietary supplement such as specially-formulated Essential AD2 by Delta Nutrassentials. Take two tablets daily and two more tablets 45 minutes before drinking alcohol to keep acetaldehyde levels as low as possible throughout the month. Originally designed to address ALDH2 Deficiency, EssentialAD2 is clinically proven with a combination and concentration of ingredients that (1) increase the activity of the ALDH2 enzyme, (2) react directly with the acetaldehyde toxin to clear it out, and (3) boost natural metabolism.
There are many good reasons to either quit or at least reduce alcohol consumption and cigarettes in order to keep acetaldehyde levels lower. In addition to the reduced risk of cancer, there are also the immediate benefits of better sleep, feeling more refreshed and alert, and easier weight management.
- Health Spectator. https://health.spectator.co.uk/moderate-drinkers-dont-stop-the-health-benefits-are-clear-the-cancer-risk-is-not/
- Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/alcohol/art-20044551
- Swedish Society of Medicine. http://iogt.se/wp-content/uploads/Alkohol-och-cancerrapport-2016_ENG.pdf
- World Health Organization. http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/disease-prevention/alcohol-use/data-and-statistics/q-and-a-how-can-i-drink-alcohol-safely
- National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa72/aa72.htm