Why We Minimize Risks of Alcohol by Dr. Joseph Mercola for Mercola
Alcohol is an accepted part of almost all societies. It is so engrained in socializing and entertainment, easy to obtain and relatively inexpensive that few think twice about taking a drink or two. Certainly, we know about alcoholism and recognize alcoholics, especially when they are on “skid row,” but we don’t usually think of alcohol as a dangerous drug. But perhaps we should.
Scientific reports reveal that alcohol may be among the most dangerous drugs, illegal or legal, that exist. In the U.S., approximately 88,000 people die a year from alcohol-related causes — including more than 4,300 deaths among underage youth1 — and in 2014, alcohol caused 9,967 driving fatalities in the U.S.2 Worldwide, 5.9% of deaths are attributable to alcohol.3
Why is alcohol not demonized the way tobacco is? There are at least two reasons, say public health experts. One is that the alcohol lobby has bought favorable media coverage through donations and partnerships with public health groups and even government agencies. The other reason is that illegal drugs usually receive the brunt of bad publicity even when the legal drug, alcohol, may do more damage.
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Alcohol Is More Harmful Than Many Realize
While most people are aware of drunk driving fatalities and the possible effects of excessive alcohol consumption on the liver, there are other serious consequences from drinking alcohol that are less well publicized. For example, alcohol is strongly linked to mouth cancers and cancers of the pharynx, larynx, esophagus, rectum, colon and breast. It is even linked to cancers of the pancreas and lung.4
The carcinogenic effect of alcohol “is unmistakably proportional to the daily/weekly dosage,” according to research published in the Hungarian journal Magyar Onkologia.5 Alcohol, or ethanol as it is called in the medical profession, metabolizes into the known carcinogen acetaldehyde, which exerts negative actions:6
“Among other things chronic alcohol consumption promotes the production of endogen hormones, affects the insulin-like growth factor-1, alters several biological pathways, raises oxidative stress, and damages the genes. Even modest daily alcohol intake will increase the risk of breast cancer.”
Further, alcohol can encourage colon cancer, according to a report in the journal Evidence Report/Technology Assessment:7
“One human tissue study, 19 animal studies … and 10 cell line studies indicate that ethanol and acetaldehyde may alter metabolic pathways and cell structures that increase the risk of developing colon cancer. Exposure of human colonic biopsies to acetaldehyde suggests that acetaldehyde disrupts epithelial tight junctions.
Among 19 animal studies the mechanisms considered included: Mucosal damage after ethanol consumption. Increased degradation of folate. Stimulation of rectal carcinogenesis. Increased cell proliferation. Increased effect of carcinogens.”
Alcohol Can Contribute to Breast Cancer
The most common cancer in U.S. women is breast cancer and it is the second biggest cause of their cancer deaths. There is a strong correlation between the consumption of alcoholic beverages and breast cancer, according to a study published in the journal Alcohol:8
“Results of most epidemiologic studies, as well as of most experimental studies in animals, have shown that alcohol intake is associated with increased breast cancer risk.
Alcohol consumption may cause breast cancer through different mechanisms, including through mutagenesis by acetaldehyde, through perturbation of estrogen metabolism and response, and by inducing oxidative damage and/or by affecting folate and one-carbon metabolism pathways … Acetaldehyde is a known, although weak, mutagen.”
Because of the oxidative damage alcohol causes and its effects on the insulin-like growth factor-1 and genes, “Even modest daily alcohol intake will increase the risk of breast cancer,” concludes the journal Magyar Onkologia.9 The heightened breast cancer risk likely comes from alcohol’s increase of estrogen, suggests research in Evidence Report/Technology Assessment:10
“Increased estrogen levels may increase the risk of breast cancer through increases in cell proliferation and alterations in estrogen receptors. Human studies have also suggested a connection with prolactin and with biomarkers of oxidative stress.
Of 15 animal studies, six reported increased mammary tumorigenesis … Other animal studies reported conversion of ethanol to acetaldehyde in mammary tissue as having a significant effect on the progression of tumor development.”