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Australian Scientists link Alcohol with Cancer

Posted: Thursday, 05 May 2011 15:36

Australian Scientists link Alcohol with Cancer

May 4: While a new position statement on alcohol last week by Cancer Council Australia warned there was no safe level of alcohol intake, it advised Australians it was ok to stay within official healthy drinking guidelines of two standard drinks a day, with a new advertising campaign warning those who drink alcohol to stick to the guidelines.

These recommendations, updated by the National Health and Medical Research Council in 2007, had suggested these limits in order to limit their lifetime cancer risk to one in hundred.

The current position statement suggests that 2600 breast cancer cases in Australia, 22 per cent of breast cancer cases are caused by alcohol intake, between almost 2-7 times the previous estimates, which had put the level at between 3-12 per cent. Nearly 1300 cancers of the mouth and nearly 600 cancers of the oesophagus a year are now thought to be due to patients' drinking habits. More than half (51 per cent) of oesophageal cancers are now linked to alcohol as well as 41 per cent of mouth cancers and 7 per cent of bowel cancers.

The upward revisions and new Cancer Council policy were outlined in a paper published in the Medical Journal of Australia last week according to a report in the Australian Prof. Ian Olver, Chief Executive of the Council expressed surprise that alcohol was responsible for 22 per cent of breast cancer cases. "That was a lot higher than we expected," he is reported to have said.

Surprisingly only about a tenth of the local Australians surveyed confessed to know that alcohol had anything to do with cancer. Ian Olver said Australians needed to be aware that alcohol was as bad for their health as asbestos and tobacco.

A previous Cancer Council position statement on alcohol, published in 2008, had suggested alcohol intake was responsible for 3.1 per cent of total cancer cases.

The article, co-written by Professor Olver, said understanding of alcohol's cancer-causing effects had been increasing since alcoholic drinks had been classified as class one carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 1988. He writes that alcohol also increases obesity, which is linked to a range of deadly cancers.

The occasional drop of red wine to prevent heart disease has also been overstated, the Medical Journal of Australia article writes.

Alcohol contains chemicals that damage cells and trigger changes in the genes that cause cancer. But it's not too late for regular drinkers. Prof Olver said the cancer risks start to diminish as soon as the toxins leave your system.

The study is expected to be criticised by the wine industry. Firstly, there does not seem to be enough back up of the statement and comparison with recent studies which have evidenced the positive health benefits of wine. The quality of wine is equally important to determine if there is any negative impact of wine which most quality wine producers in Australia and rest of the world would vociferously oppose the findings as a dogmatic rather than a balanced view

Coincidentally an article appeared at the same time in the Indian daily TOI that was written by a nutritionist who advises readers that instead of consuming other hard drinks, it is advisable to switch to wine especially red wine. Studies have shown that consuming wine in moderation is beneficial for health. ‘Resveratrol, a type of anti-oxidant present in red wine is associated with reducing the risk of reducing heart diseases and increasing the levels of HDL i.e. the good cholesterol in the body,’ she writes. This is an old and established theory which is worth keeping in mind.

Curiously, both the Australian study and the Indian article support our strong advice to the delWine male readers to stick to regular consumption of 2 glasses (250 mL ) of  medium alcohol level, 12-13% wine and a lesser amount for women due to the possible effect on breast cancer. According to medical experts in the US, women wine drinkers are advised regular intake of folic acid tablets which are known to bring the chances of cancer to practically zero. Discretion and discussion with their private physicians who have knowledge of the current world trends in studies in these areas are advisable- editor


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