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How to Counteract the Effects of Alcohol

More than a million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed every year, affecting about one in three Americans in their lifetimes. As I discuss in my video Preventing Skin Cancer from the Inside Out, although the chief risk factor is UV exposure from the sun, alcohol consumption may also play a role. Most of the cancers associated with alcohol use are in the digestive tract, from mouth cancer, throat cancer, and stomach cancer down to cancers of the liver and colon. These involve tissues with which alcohol comes in more direct contact. But why skin cancer?

A study of 300,000 Americans found that excessive drinking was associated with higher rates of sunburn. It “may be that heavy and binge drinking are markers for an underlying willingness to disregard health risks” and pass out on the beach, but it also may be because breakdown products of alcohol in the body generate such massive numbers of free radicals that they eat up the antioxidants that protect our skin from the sun. Plants produce “their own built-in protection against the oxidative damage of the sun,” and we can expropriate these built-in protectors by eating those plants to function as cell protectors within our own bodies. One might say fruit and vegetables provide the best polypharmacy—the best drug store—against the development of cancer.

The ingestion of plant foods increases the antioxidant potential of our bloodstream, which can then be deposited in our tissues to protect us against the damaging effects of the sun’s rays, but only recently was it put to the test.

Researchers studied 20 women and burned their buttock skin with a UV lamp before and after half of them ate three tablespoons of tomato paste a day for three months. There was significantly less DNA damage in the derrieres of those who had been eating the tomatoes. So, three months or even just ten weeks before swimsuit season, if we eat lots of an antioxidant-rich food, such as tomato sauce, we may reduce the redness of a sunburn by 40 percent. It’s like we have built-in sunscreen in our skin. Now, this isn’t as good as a high SPF sunblock, but “[m]uch of the UV exposure over a life time occurs when the skin is not protected; thus, the use of dietary factors with sun-protecting properties might have a substantial beneficial effect.”

It works both ways, though. Alcohol consumption decreases the protection within our skin. If you have people drink about three shots of vodka, within eight minutes—not after ten weeks, but within just eight minutes––the level of carotenoid antioxidants in their skin drops dramatically. If, however, you drink the same amount of vodka in orange juice, there is still a drop in skin antioxidants compared with the initial value, but drinking a screwdriver cocktail is not as bad as drinking vodka neat. Is the difference enough to make a difference out in the sun, though?

After the drinks, researchers exposed volunteers to a UV lamp and waited to see how long it would take them to burn, and the time span until they started turning red was significantly shorter after alcohol consumption than in the experiments in which either no alcohol was consumed or alcohol was consumed in combination with orange juice. It came out to be about an extra half hour out in the sun based solely on what you put in your mouth before heading to the beach. And, oranges are pretty wimpy––not as bad as bananas, but berries have the highest cellular antioxidant activity.

The researchers concluded that “[p]eople should be aware of the fact that the consumption of alcohol in combination with UV light [from sun exposure or a tanning booth] increases their risk of sunburn and therefore their risk of developing premature skin aging and even skin cancer.” If you are going to drink alcohol and be out in the sun, you should make sure you are using sunblock or, at the very least, drinking a strawberry daiquiri or something else to reduce oxidative damage.

Isn’t that wild? Antioxidant dynamics in the body change minute to minute so be sure to keep yourself topped off. See:

What else can tomatoes do? Check out Inhibiting Platelet Activation with Tomato Seeds.

Other videos on skin health include:

Alcohol doesn’t just raise the risk of skin cancer. See Breast Cancer and Alcohol: How Much Is Safe?. But, like the orange juice in a screwdriver cocktail, grape skin components may help mediate wine’s adverse effects. See Breast Cancer Risk: Red Wine vs. White Wine.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

24 responses to “How to Counteract the Effects of Alcohol

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  1. Did anyone else see the FDA warning about there being no such thing as sunscreen in a pill? This must be why Dr. Greger keeps promoting plants over pills (eh? ehh?)

  2. Wow, that is a fascinating post!

    Really cool!

    I have social drinkers in my family.

    They don’t get drunk, but they have two or three hard lemonade or things like that.

    So the lemonade part might be better than a beer?

    Does wine have any advantage from the grapes?

    I don’t drink at all, except weddings, but I have gone to Wine Country and Europe and that is where I did have wine with meals. If I go back to Europe again, I will eat grapes with the wine.

    My friend still lives there and I have relatives in other countries, so it could happen.

    All day, I have been pondering the dog food study.

    I had come to the conclusion that the kibble was the guilty party, because dogs used to live to 17 and now they die around 11 and over half get cancer, but…. just adding a quarter cup of finely chopped vegetables 3 days per week decreased the cancer risk by 90%.

    They were feeding the dogs kibble.

    It wasn’t a raw diet or a vegan diet or a keto diet.

    It was kibble and vegetables three days per week.

    I am going to be giving my dog blueberries again. Gonna mash them up in his food, now that he is eating the rest of it.

    This stupid cancer is going down.

    I got half of his lab reports today and his liver enzymes have improved. They are now in the normal range. His condition really is improving. Waiting for more good news.

    The only number, which was far off, my vet said goes off when animals are on steroids, and he and I are going to be fighting about that pretty soon, I think.

    He said “Steroids for the rest of his life” and I thought, “But the steroids are causing the one number, which is off to be off.”

    I will wait to see if I have shrunk the tumor, but he will be weaning off those steroids someday.

    1. Deb

      I think you mentioned previously that a family member or friend hd recently ben diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

      This article about a mouse study may be of interest. It combined CBD (from cannabis) with standard chemotherapy

      ‘Mice with pancreatic cancer that were treated with a naturally occurring constituent of medicinal cannabis alongside chemotherapy, survived almost three times longer than those treated with chemotherapy alone, a new study reports.’

      1. I’ve been trying CBD oil…seems to have a mild calming effect….10 to 20 mg per dose. Have seen references to its use for cancer treatment.

        Trying it to possibly help sleep times…

  3. I will be sharing this article with so many people.

    Can I print your things out?

    Not sure how information sharing rules works, but I would like to bring it to a picnic.

    1. Hi, Deb.

      If you click on the ellipsis on the left side of this web page, and then click on “PrintFriendly”, it will give you a very nice printable file.

      1. Thanks!

        That is helpful!

        Hooray! I have been worried about people’s drinking.

        Who knows if the fruits and vegetables might change trajectories altogether.

        Kibble, plus a little vegetables = 90% less chance of getting Cancer in dogs.

        Who knows how fabulous it may be if humans actually ate fruits and vegetables at all?!?!?!

        I was so inspired that I ended up going out and buying fruits and vegetables and my wonderful dog ate 3 blueberries, 4 baby carrots and 7 pieces of broccoli.

        I need to figure out the dosage of blueberry and cardamom and pepper to double his Natural Killer cells. Hooray! I love that!

  4. Unfortunately the “strawberry” in your daiquiri is only corn syrup, flavoring and coloring with no “antioxidant” capabilities. The real antioxidant activity we need is inside the cells where the real damage occurs. Orally consumed “antioxidants” rarely ever make it through the stomach and even then never make it into a cell. They all work extracellularly which really doesn’t do much for us at all. To get the real antioxidant reaction to occur inside your cells you have to trigger what’s called the NRF2 reaction together with ARE and KEEP1, all acronyms for chemical reactions inside our cells. Do your search for NRF2 reaction.

    The other problem is that many of the ingredients in sun screens are carcinogenic!! Shade and long sleeves and wide brimmed hats work better without the risks!

  5. Thank you, Dr. Edwin Travis.

    Though, when I was in college, people used the real fruit in their daiquiris.

    I love that you shared things to look up.

    I try to learn three or four or five new things about all of this every day.

  6. I almost didn’t read this blog because of the title. I don’t drink alcohol. Glad I decided to read it anyway. Great information about sun exposure. We have lots of sunny days in Buenos Aires, even during the winter months (July-August).

    1. Yes, this one was much more interesting than I thought it might be.

      It caused me to look to see if there were any antioxidants, which I hadn’t learned about and astaxanthin is almost as high as Dragon’s blood!

      I guess I have to look to see if there is a Dr. G. video on it.

      I have already spread this one to people.

      I don’t know if they will want to hear it, but I feel a moral obligation to tell them.

      My vet knew the Purdue study and didn’t tell me, even though we had talked diet several times even since my dog’s cancer.

      When I told him that a quarter cup of vegetables could have lowered my dog’s risk of getting Cancer by 90%, he said, “Yup. Yup. I know that study.”

      But he didn’t tell me about it.

      Dr. Greger,

      Some times, like when you pump information out, I want to stop and tell you that I love you. My vet didn’t tell me information, which could have saved me so much heart ache.

      Doctors almost always did the same process my vet did.

      “Oh yeah, I knew that.”

      I knew your dog was a breed, which gets this fatal cancer by now and I knew if he ate raw vegetables 3 times per week, he might not get it…… and I am not going to tell you information like this.

      Thank you for looking this up, so I don’t have to.

      And, yes, I still have to look everything up, but I looked blueberries up tonight and bought cardamom and I genuinely love you and my dog doesn’t know how much he loves you yet.

      1. Deb,

        I, too, appreciate your dog updates. My sweet dog Harley died in April from hemangiosarcoma after just turning 9. It came on hard and fast. He was diagnosed in early Feb and it had already started to spread. It was horrible to watch and I felt powerless. I wish I had been feeding him vegetables.

  7. As a regular consumer of red wine, last year I took a fall in the shower and was confined to a wheel chair for a month. Was bored out of my mind that I couldn’t go out (without a lot of extra effort). Read a similar suggestion about ‘juice mixed with alcohol’ previously via Dr. Gregor…thought it was a great idea, and started mixing 50/50 red wine and Valencia orange juice. Came down with ‘gout’.

    I have spent the best part of a year trying to undo this mess.

    PS I am 99.8% WFPB w/vigorous daily exercise.

    1. I am fascinated that you came down with gout from adding the Orange juice to the wine.

      Unless you started drinking more wine because of it?

      The people who I know who have gout are more than three times per week drinkers of alcohol.

      So maybe if you added tart cherries instead?

      Are you eating your fruit and veggies raw? Because enzymes are supposed to help and so is alkalizing the system, but WFPB is pretty alkaline, unless you aren’t eating the fruits and veggies.

      1. Pineapple chaser?

        Maybe blueberry wine instead?

        At the very least, if you did blueberry wine with real blueberries, you could double your Natural Killer cells and then maybe have some cardamom and you might kill some extra Cancer cells.

        1. Cilantro might help or Essentia water after the alcohol.

          You aren’t a fish eater or some other meat that you aren’t fessing up to?

          I ask, because it could be cumulative and fish eaters sometimes categorize themselves as pesce vegetarians.

          I am going to add creative things which might not work at all, but Triphala and the other high antioxidant, whatever it was called. Search for it and look below below Dragons blood, which I do not recommend particularly for a drinker, because it might damage DNA.

          Triphala has To be lab tested or you will end up with lead. You can use Modified Citrus Pectin to take the lead out and I wonder if that has ever been tested on gout?

          cilantro and tart cherries and alkaline water as a chaser to your fruit and wine…,

          And tell me if any of it works.

  8. Got the second half of my dogs lab tests.

    He tested normal for 4 of the anemia tests.

    Two of his white blood cell tests are still way off, so he may still have an infection, but anemia and liver were normal.

    Working on lungs and infection.

  9. I found out that Modified Citrus Pectin is more powerful for improving the immune system than medicinal mushrooms.

    I think eventually I will narrow to one or two things and that will be one.

    Detoxes and removes heavy metals better than chelators

    Starves Cancer of glucose in a dose dependent manner

    Strengthens immune system better than the mushrooms

  10. Excellent posts. Does anyone know if it matters if the antioxidants are drunk with the alchohol (such as mixing blueberries with vodka) or does it work equally well eating them on the side (like peanuts and raisins?

  11. Hi I’m a health support volunteer. That is an interesting question. Essentially for good health we need a high antioxidant intake all day long with everything we eat. We should always be trying to get as much nutrition and antioxidants into each bite. I don’t think a small amount of antioxidants with alcohol negates the effects of the alcohol or that we have to eat antioxidants with the alcohol to be able to fight it’s negative effects. It’s about having a high antioxidant intake all the time so they build up in our tissues so our body can counteract the effects of alcohol.

    All the best,

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