27 Sep The Muddled Link between Alcohol and Cancer
How much is too much alcohol?
A couple years ago, a researcher named Curtis Ellison took the podium in a crowded lecture hall at Boston University’s School of Public Health. The goal was to tackle a question that had divided the university’s public health community. Should moderate drinking should be recommended as part of a healthy lifestyle? Ellison’s take? “I mean, it’s so obviously ‘yes,’” he told the crowd.
You’ve heard Ellison’s pitch before: A glass a day can make for a healthier heart and a longer life. On stage, he told the story of “Jackrabbit” Johannsen, a famed cross country skier who lived to be 111. Johannsen had four pieces of advice for a long and healthy life, Ellison said: “Don’t smoke, get lots of exercise, don’t drink too much.” He paused. “On the other hand, don’t drink too little, either.” The crowd erupted in laughter and applause.
Is even a little alcohol too much?
But Ellison wasn’t going unchallenged. Watching from the other side of the stage was Tim Naimi, a public health professor at BU who studies binge drinking in the same building as Ellison. He was there to argue the less attractive position: Drinking is distinctly unhealthy. And not in the typical ways you might associate with alcoholism, but in the sense of increased cancer risk—even for moderate drinkers.
For folks within the realm of public health, that’s no surprise. The World Health Organization has recognized alcoholic beverages as a Group 1 carcinogen since 2012. This means evidence supports a link between alcohol and increased cancer risk. This past March, Jennie Connor, a preventative and social medicine researcher from New Zealand’s University of Otago, published a review of studies. These studies looked at the correlation between drinking and cancer. They concluded that “there is strong evidence that alcohol causes cancer at seven sites in the body and probably others.”
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