You Are What You Eat

Drink in Moderation

Research suggests that drinking more than a glass of wine or a pint of beer a day can increase the risk of cancer. In the UK alcohol is being held responsible for some 13,000 cancer cases a year.

A study involving 363,988 people carried out in eight European countries and published by the British Medical Journal shows that one in ten cancers in men and one in 33 in women are linked to alcohol consumption.

Earlier research had already linked alcohol and cancers of the esophagus, liver, bowel and breast, the link coming from the fact that when the body breaks alcohol down it produces a chemical which can damage DNA.

Experts and cancer charities say people should limit their drinking to reduce the risk, particularly as the recent research points to women who have more than one drink a day and men who have more than two being particularly at risk of alcohol-related cancers.

The study’s lead researcher and author, Madlen Schutze, of the German Institute of Human Nutrition, says many cases of cancer could be avoided if alcohol consumption was limited. "Even more cancer cases would be prevented if people reduced their alcohol intake to below recommended guidelines or stopped drinking alcohol at all.”

Professor Karol SikoraCancer Partners UK Medical Director says the message is "drink occasionally, but not regularly. This is the best data we're ever likely to get. The take-home message is that the more alcohol you drink, some of the common cancers - the four cancers that have been identified - do increase. So the message has to be 'look at drinking habits, and reduce.'"

While cutting down on our alcohol consumption we can also try to eat foods that could lower our cancer risk. This is a good time of year to increase our intake of “cruciferous vegetables”, that’s veg like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, sprouts and the like. 

Experts often recommend also that we reduce our risk of breast cancer by eating less red meat and avoiding vegetable oils and their products, which include most mayonnaise and margarine and some salad oils. 

The World Cancer Research Fund believes more than a third of the most common 12 cancers could be prevented by lifestyle changes and that while no one food can avert the onset of cancer a combination of mainly plant-based foods can provide extra protection through healthy nutrients and antioxidants.

Researchers recommend, in addition to cruciferous vegetables, tomatoes, beans, onions and garlic, berries, dark green leafy vegetables and whole grains. Even peanut butter and baked beans, both high in fibre, are said to protect against colon cancer.

Obesity is also associated with higher cancer risk. So drink less alcohol, eat your greens and get exercising. You know it is good for you.

Patricia McLoughlin