New research suggests even a single drink a day can increase cancer risk

Time to rethink the drink?

Has an occasional glass of wine on the weekend turned into one or two a night during the pandemic? Do you have a regular happy hour to unwind after work? Or daily beer after being on the hill?

If so, you likely aren't alone, but you may want to consider a resolution to cut down in 2022.

While previously, the thought was a little alcohol couldn't hurt you, research is showing that is not the case.

"Now, with the new evidence, it's actually showing one out of seven of all new cancer cases in 2020 — worldwide 100,000 new cancer cases — are for people who just drink light to moderate. So, one to two drinks daily," says Sandra Gentleman, registered dietitian with BC Cancer.

"Basically, with alcohol, there's no safe level for cancer risk."

Gentleman explained that alcohol can raise circulating estrogen levels in the bloodstream. That increases the risk of hormone-related cancers like breast and ovarian and endometrial, for example.

"All the risks of cancer go up with any alcohol,” she said. “Why that happens is ethanol in alcohol breaks down to a known carcinogen that damages the DNA. It's called acetaldehyde and that's the carcinogen that is in the bloodstream when your body's breaking down the alcohol, and then that damages the DNA. And it also impairs the body's ability to break down and absorb important good nutrients that protect against cancer."

Meanwhile, other studies show the pandemic has led to more drinking.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction and the Mental Health Commission of Canada found that in 2020, one in three respondents who use alcohol reported increased use and one in five reported problematic use.

Gentleman said the concern is that new habits of drinking may be forming that last beyond the temporary stress of dealing with the pandemic.

Gentleman suggests those who like a drink after work could swap alcoholic drinks out for a mocktail or a spritzer or near-beer. If drinking at night is for self-care, perhaps switching to a bath, book or yoga is an option, she said.

If you drink red wine because you think it helps your heart, swap the red wine for blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries, any of the foods that have bright colours.

She acknowledged that during the pandemic most of us are already feeling like we can't do a lot of things we want to, so she noted she isn't saying never have a drink. Instead, she is saying wherever your baseline is, try to reduce the amount.

"It's more just being aware that there's no safe level of alcohol. It's just like candy. I mean, you're going to eat it anyway, sometimes, but you know it's not good for you. It's not doing anything [good], but it's a treat. And the same with alcohol," she said, adding that knowledge is power.

"If you know that... you have a family history of cancer — hormonal cancers, or liver and esophageal and head neck, oral, pancreatic — .... your risk goes up a little bit more when you do drink."

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