Light drinkers have low mortality, cancer risk

A study finds light drinkers have the lowest combined risk of getting cancer and dying prematurely — lower than nondrinkers. Alcohol is estimated to be the third-largest contributor to overall cancer deaths

"To help give a clearer message, we chose to assess both cancer and mortality outcomes together, using the same methods and same population, to see what the overall link between alcohol and these major outcomes are".

Very heavy drinkers (three or more drinks each day) had the highest risk of dying early or developing cancer at 21 per cent.

But the average amount of alcohol someone drank in a lifetime was linearly associated with total risk of cancer, in that risk went up the more someone drank, the data showed. The researchers discovered that those who drink a lot tend to have the highest risk of developing cancer and dying. But older adults in this study were asked about their lifetime drinking habits - and death risk was lowest among people who'd been, on average, light drinkers their whole adult life. A new study shows that if people drink less alcohol, they have a lower risk of cancer than the ones that drink more.

Thus, the group who consumed between two and three drinks per day and even more than three drinks per day recorded more deaths during the period studied, in comparison to light drinkers (1-3 drinks per week) and those who consumed one alcoholic beverage per week (infrequent drinkers).

On the other hand, the risk of developing cancer tended to inch up the more often people drank - especially for alcohol-related types, such as cancers of the throat, mouth, esophagus and liver.

The light drinker category was hypothesized to have the lowest mortality, and so was chosen as the reference category for mortality and combined outcomes, while the never drinker category was chosen as the reference category for risk of cancer, as it was hypothesised that these individuals would have the lowest cancer risk. The researchers also looked at data on the number of primary cancer diagnoses (meaning it was the first time the person had been diagnosed with cancer) and deaths that occurred in the cohort over the next nine years. "The results perhaps also suggest that [decisions about] drinking that second glass each night shouldn't be made for health reasons".

Dr Kunzmann said: 'It has been suggested light drinking may have beneficial effects on heart health, though this has not yet been proven.

However, the researchers realize that certain factors might affect these results.

Those who drink in moderation are also more likely to be wealthy and have healthier lifestyles overall, experts suggest.

However, Kunzmann did reveal that indicators such as differences in diet, smoking, and education among participants were taken into consideration in regard to the study. Their risk was lower than those who had never drunk and those who drank very little (less than a drink a week).

The study found that for those who drank less alcohol, there was a marked decrease in cancer rates.

The study analysis is limited to older adults and may be confounded by socioeconomic factors, the authors caution. The global guidelines around what constitutes drinking in moderation also differ, with United Kingdom guidelines now recommending intakes below 6 pints of beer or 175ml glasses of wine per week (equivalent to less than 1 per day) but other guidelines recommending intakes of 2 drinks or less per day.

"Drinking alcohol is a personal choice and it is not our aim to tell people whether they can or can't drink", said Kunzmann. We simply aim to provide them with reliable evidence so that they can make their own informed, healthy decisions. Until there is more evidence, Kunzmann also advised against teetotalers starting drinking again for the sake of their health.

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