New mixology: 2-3 beers (daily) with a shot of stomach cancer risk

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For individuals who consume two to three beers (or more) daily over the course of many years, a new study suggests that they may have a 75 percent increased risk of gastric (stomach) cancer. And for those who also have a certain gene called rs1230025, which is found in about 20 percent of the general population, the chance of getting gastric cancer goes up seven-fold. If you have this gene but aren’t a heavy drinker, your risk of developing gastric cancer is still 30 percent higher than people who drink less than one beer per day. Interestingly, the link to gastric cancer only held true for beer drinkers, while wine or liquor consumption was not associated with an increased risk.

“We’ve always assumed that any risk associated with alcoholic beverages is due to the ethanol content and not whether it’s beer, wine or liquor, meaning all spirits consumed in excess pose the same risk. But this new study shows us that beer in particular seems to pose a greater danger to health, at least for stomach cancer,” notes ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan.

Lead study author Eric Duell, a senior epidemiologist at the Catalan Institute of Oncology in Barcelona, Spain, and his colleagues looked at the alcohol consumption and gastric cancer status of 521,000 people ages 35 to 70 who participated in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition survey in 1992 and 1998. Their findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Orlando.

What is it about beer that makes it more harmful? The authors postulate that because beer contains some levels of N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), an animal carcinogen, prolonged exposure to this chemical, in addition to the alcohol byproduct acetaldehyde, may contribute to gastric cancer via daily drinking. ACSH’s Dr. Josh Bloom thinks this explanation is reasonable. “Nitroso-containing compounds are well-known to be carcinogenic as a class. Thus, the difference between beer and other forms of alcohol makes sense from a chemical and toxicological point of view.”

“The number of participants involved is huge, and the findings are pronounced, meaning this is an important study, and at the very least, is a hypothesis-generating study that clearly warrants further investigation,” adds ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross.

Clarification on teenage drinking stats

Last week, we reported on the most recent statistics regarding adolescent substance abuse released by the Partnership at Drugfree.org. Though there has been an increase among teens in the use of marijuana and the party drug ecstasy between 2008 and 2010, data sent to us from a concerned Dispatch reader has made it clear that the rate of teenage drinking in 2010 has continued its decade-long decline. While our article emphasized our concern over the apparent indifference to binge drinking expressed by 45 percent of teenagers, we did not mean to give the impression that the actual rate of teen drinking had risen — it has not.