According to a famous series of papers in the Journal of the American Medical Association called the “Actual Causes of Death in the United States,” the leading killer of Americans in the year 2000 was tobacco, followed by diet and inactivity. The third-leading killer? Alcohol. About half of alcohol-related deaths were due to sudden causes like motor vehicle accidents; the other half were slower, and the leading cause was alcoholic liver disease.
Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to an accumulation of fat in the liver (known as fatty liver), which can cause inflammation and result in liver scarring and, eventually, liver failure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines excessive drinking as the regular consumption of more than one drink a day for women and more than two a day for men. A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces (a “shot”) of hard liquor. Progression of the disease can usually be halted by stopping drinking, but sometimes it’s too late.
Once alcohol-induced hepatitis (liver inflammation) is diagnosed, three-year survival rates can be as high as 90 percent among people who stop drinking after diagnosis. But as many as 18 percent of them go on to develop cirrhosis, an irreparable scarring of the liver.
Alcohol consumption may also play a role in pancreatic cancer, among the most lethal forms of cancer, with just 6 percent of patients surviving five years after diagnosis. As many as 20 percent of pancreatic cancer cases may be a result of tobacco smoking, and other modifiable risk factors include obesity and heavy alcohol consumption.
Similarly, the primary risk factors for esophageal cancer include smoking and heavy alcohol consumption (though even light drinking appears to increase risk), as well as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD, also called acid reflux).
What about cancer of the breast? In 2010, the official World Health Organization body that assesses cancer risks formally upgraded its classification of alcohol to a definitive human breast carcinogen. In 2014, it clarified its position by stating that, regarding breast cancer, no amount of alcohol is safe.
But what about drinking “responsibly”? In 2013, scientists published a compilation of more than one hundred studies on breast cancer and light drinking (up to one alcoholic beverage a day) and found a small but statistically significant increase in breast cancer risk even among women who had at most one drink per day—except, perhaps, for red wine. Why red wine? A compound in it appears to suppress the activity of an enzyme called estrogen synthase, which breast tumors can use to create estrogen to fuel their own growth. This compound is found in the skin of the dark-purple grapes used to make red wine, which explains why white wine appears to provide no such benefit, since it’s produced without the skin.
The researchers concluded that the grapes in red wine may help cancel out some of the cancer-causing effects of the alcohol. But you can reap the benefits without the risks associated with imbibing alcoholic beverages by simply drinking grape juice or, even better, eating the purple grapes themselves—preferably ones with seeds, as they may be most effective at suppressing estrogen synthase.
Image Credit: Amanda Rae. This image has been modified.
Popular Videos for Alcohol
All Videos for Alcohol
Win-Win Dietary Solutions to the Climate Crisis
The EAT-Lancet Commission lays out the best diet for human and planetary health.
The Effects of Marijuana on Car Accidents
Did traffic fatalities go up or down after cannabis legalization?
Hand Washing & Sanitizing to Inactivate COVID-19 Coronavirus
My recipes for DIY hand sanitizer and surface disinfectant for SARS-CoV-2.
The Role of Corporate Influence in the Obesity Epidemic
Like the tobacco industry adding extra nicotine, the food industry employs taste engineers to accomplish a similar goal: maximize the irresistibility of their products.
The Role of Food Advertisements in the Obesity Epidemic
We all like to think we make important life decisions like what to eat consciously and rationally, but if that were the case we wouldn’t be in the midst of an obesity epidemic.
What Are the Best Beverages?
A review of reviews on the health effects of tea, coffee, milk, wine, and soda.
Foods That Help Headache & Migraine Relief
Plant-based diets are put to the test for treating migraine headaches.
How to Lower Blood Pressure Naturally with Lifestyle Changes
The effect of fasting to lower blood pressure compared to medications, cutting down on alcohol, meat and salt, eating more fruits and vegetables, or eating completely plant-based.
What the New Blood Pressure Range Guidelines Mean
Natural approaches to lowering high blood pressure can work better than drugs because you’re treating the underlying cause, and can end up having only good side effects.
Is Vegan Food Always Healthy?
Healthier plant-based diets compared to unhealthy plant foods and animal foods on diabetes risk.
Long-Term Effects of Toxoplasmosis Brain Infection
The effect of toxoplasma brain parasites can cause personality alterations.
Dairy & Cancer
How do we explain the increased risk of prostate cancer but the decreased risk of colon cancer associated with dairy consumption?