Health effects of alcohol use are complex

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In what seemed to be an attempt to update the statistics on the risk of alcohol-linked cancer deaths in the U.S., a study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that alcohol can be blamed for 20,000 deaths per year. And although heavy drinkers (those who consumed three or more drinks a day) accounted for the most deaths from cancer, the study also found that consuming just 1.5 drinks per day was associated with 35 percent of those deaths. One of the study s conclusions is that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption that is entirely free of increasing the risk of cancer.

The study, conducted using U.S. mortality data and recent studies on alcohol consumption and cancer mortality, found that alcohol accounted for 3.5 percent of the 577,000 cancer deaths in the U.S. each year. Alcohol accounted for 15 percent of all breast cancer deaths in women, while in men cancers of the mouth and throat were most commonly associated with alcohol.

In spite of these findings, study authors believe that this link between alcohol and cancer deaths is not well-known or appreciated, largely due to the fact that more than 65 percent of adults drink regularly or occasionally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Furthermore, several studies have found that moderate drinking up to two drinks a day for men a one drink for women can boost heart health, cut cholesterol and prevent diabetes.

Eric Rimm, an associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, goes even further, noting that studies have shown that those who don t drink have a 50 percent higher risk of heart attack than those who do. Even study author Dr. Timothy Naimi questions Why can t people enjoy their glass of wine without twisting it into a health panacea?

ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava commented Such studies must be kept in context: heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. So, in trying to apply the results of this study to an individual s situation, their own risk factors e.g. family history must be considered. ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan added the bottom line still is that drinking in moderation is safe and probably even promotes overall health. People can have a couple of drinks without worrying that they are putting themselves at risk of cancer.

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross added, When I see an author (or group) asserting that some, often common exposure or behavior has no safe level, I conclude that the study is based on some predetermined agenda to target the suspected subject, be it a chemical, behavior, or food. This study certainly seems to fit that description.