The Connection is Very Clear.
“With all things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the right one. “ — William of Ockham
Alcohol increases your chances of cancer. That’s it. Cut and dry.
When you get to the bones of it, there is no other way to look at it.
While you will often see articles that tout the health benefits of drinking, many of those are based on studies that are flawed and biased at best.
From the CDC and other studies performed recently on drinking, it is becoming accepted that if you don’t drink, there are no true health benefits that should encourage you to start drinking.
There are six distinct types of cancer for which alcohol can increase your chances: mouth and throat, larynx, esophagus, colon and rectum, liver, and breast.
And just to be specific as possible. the science is clear. It’s not only certain types of alcohol that causes this but all types, including wine, beer, cocktails, and all types of spirits.
HOW DOES IT DO IT
There are a number of ways that alcohol can increase your chance of cancer over time.
One is related to how your body breaks down alcohol to process it to prevent major damage due to its harmful effects.
Without getting overly complicated, when you drink, your body breaks down alcohol into a chemical known as acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is a known carcinogen (cancer-causing toxic), as it can damage your body’s natural DNA and mutate your cells to become cancerous and grow uncontrollably.
When you drink a small amount of alcohol, your body has no issues processing it. There are no major issues as it passes through the body and does no major harm.
However, when you drink large amounts of alcohol, this becomes more of a challenge, as alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), the chemical that breaks down alcohol into acetaldehyde, sometimes has trouble converting alcohol into acetate, a form of salt that our body is able to use for energy.
Some of this could be caused by the body not being able to produce the enzymes needed correctly due to an overwhelming amount of alcohol in the bloodstream at the time or it could be a genetic issue that doesn’t allow this function to work properly.
Whichever is the case, what this could lead to are mutations, rearrangements, and clumps in your DNA that could spell big trouble in the future.
MUTATIONS, REARRANGEMENTS, AND CLUMPS
While there is still a bit unknown about all of the reasons how and why some individuals get cancer and others don’t, one thing that is certain is that cells can become cancer cells largely because of the mutation of genes.
Typically, there are two types of gene mutations, inherited and acquired.
As one would guess, inherited mutations are those that someone is born with that are passed down from parents, and there is not a lot that can be done about them.
Acquired mutations, on the other hand, are those that occur later in life through various events in our lives or actions we perform. Some of this happens naturally in people and is a bit unexplainable, while some can have a direct link to habits that increase the chances of these mutations.
Drinking alcohol is one of those things.
When we drink large amounts of alcohol, we increase the chances that our body’s enzymes will not be able to break it all down into acetate for energy use.
When this happens, we could have leftover acetaldehyde in our body that has been known to lead to DNA spelling mistakes that cause point mutations.
Point mutations are when your body’s DNA mistakenly swaps a ‘letter” in a gene for a different one. This change could lead to mistakes in your DNA, which could lead to cancer.
Outside of just the single point mutation, acetaldehyde can also trigger changes to entire chromosomes (the long string of DNA) that could also cause the changing of the genes to create an even more pronounced chance of a cancerous issue taking place.
And lastly, acetaldehyde has also been shown to bind to DNA, forming clumps known as adducts. These adducts can grow inside the body and eventually lead to cancer as DNA folds and replicates itself, causing them to spread throughout your body.
While it is difficult to predict who will experience these mutations and issues as a result of drinking alcohol, it is clear that each time someone decides to drink more than the daily recommended limit, he or she is putting themselves at risk of triggering a mutation that could turn into a long term problem.
FREE RADICAL CREATION
And if this wasn’t enough to scare the sh*t out of you, there are a few other ways your body responds to alcohol that has an effect on your chance of cancer.
One of these ways is through the extra generation of what are known as free radicals, or electron-less atoms or molecules that can travel through the body looking for a partner to replace their lost electrons.
These free radicals are formed naturally throughout the body through various metabolic processes but can cause major damage if left unchecked, as they can specifically cause damage to your DNA, proteins, and lipids (fats).
The specific free radical group that is often seen as the most dangerous is known as reactive oxygen species. They are created naturally in very small amounts, but the body wards against the damages they can cause your cells through its natural defense mechanisms.
With the consumption of alcohol, however, not only do the instances of the creation of ROS increase dramatically but the body’s natural defense mechanisms are made less effective, as alcohol also reduces the creation of the antioxidants in the body that would be used to fight them off.
This creates the perfect cocktail of bad circumstances to put your body into a state known as oxidative stress, which is a bit complicated as it relates to its overall effect on your body, but the overall consensus is that it’s a potential danger to your body, as it relates to creating a cancerous environment.
Simply put…excessive alcohol increases the chances of this happening in your body with time.
With females, the risk can be even more pronounced, as there is a direct connection between the consumption of alcohol and an increased chance of female-related cancers.
Due to the physical difference of women being much smaller than men on average and the fact that alcohol resides predominantly in body water, it generally takes longer and more energy for their body to break down alcohol than men.
This is why the daily recommended moderation amount for women is typically one drink per day, while it is as much as two drinks for men.
What this means is that everything that we discussed above is more pronounced in women if they drink the exact same amount as men based on the increased time that alcohol will spend in their body while being metabolized.
Couple this with the fact that alcohol is known to raise the estrogen levels in individuals, and this becomes a major factor for women as this has been linked to greatly increasing the chances of a female developing breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer.
And for breast cancer, it doesn’t take much at all.
In studies, women who have as little as three drinks per week can have a 15% higher chance of breast cancer than women who don’t drink at all. It has also been estimated that this risk goes up an additional 10% for each drink that women have regularly every day, making this extremely dangerous for women who drink a lot on a regular basis.
If you also add this to the fact that alcohol is known to damage your body’s ability to absorb a variety of nutrients that usually help with decreasing your cancer risks (vitamin A and vitamin B complex (such as folate), vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin E), and you have the almost the perfect storm of factors that could put your at peril for cancer formation over time.
Cancer is one of the scariest things that we could face as individuals due to the seemingly numerous unknown reasons why it occurs in some but not in others. However, from what we do know, there is an undeniable truth that drinking alcohol definitely increases the chances of this occurring.
And while, unfortunately, there is no guarantee you still won’t develop cancer if you abstain from drinking altogether, hopefully, this article helped shed some light to make you aware of the risk you are taking with each drink you take.