Most of us have heard that moderate drinking – a glass of wine a day – can be beneficial in preventing heart disease.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in early November, however, suggests that even moderate alcohol consumption can increase a woman’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. Alcohol use already has been linked to oropharyngeal cancers, esophageal and, to lesser degree, stomach and colon cancers, so what does this news mean to you as you go into the holidays?
It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t imbibe, but it does mean that you should be aware that alcohol is considered a carcinogen.
Here are six things to think about as you get ready for the parties and the tree-trimming.
- The JAMA article reported that women who drank three to six alcoholic beverages a week had a 15% increased risk of breast cancer. Women who consumed two drinks per day had a more than 50% greater risk than women who did not drink.
- If you drink to decrease your risk of heart disease, reconsider. There are far better ways to do that, experts suggest, than by having an alcoholic beverage. Regular exercise, weight control, not smoking, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol and healthy eating are all more beneficial. While it may be hard to factor in gym time during the holidays, try to manage at least a brisk walk of 30 minutes each day.
- Lifetime consumption of alcohol may be a factor in cancer risk, the authors of the study suggest. Cumulative consumption of alcoholic beverages over a period of years appears to place a woman at higher risk of developing breast cancer. Thus, if you are an older woman – particularly post-menopausal when excess body fat increases the amount of circulating estrogen in the body – think about slowing down the flow of alcohol.
- “But I only drink a few drinks once a week,” such as at a party, dinner or girls’ night out, you might think. Doesn’t matter, the experts say, and binge drinking – typically defined as drinking three or more drinks in one setting – may actually be more detrimental than three drinks spread over the course of a week.
- Consider the effect on your body of the empty calories of alcohol. A glass of wine is 125 calories; a martini is about 190. To burn off the martini, you would need to walk about 45 minutes or swim about 20.
- The study’s authors – as well as many other researchers – note that alcohol consumption is often under-reported. That is, patients do not typically like to tell their doctors how much they drink. Remember that your physician is there to keep you healthy or to heal you, not judge. Make sure you accurately report your drinking patterns to him or her.