We’re changing things up around here, which includes giving you summaries of important cancer news, as well as what we hope is a simpler, more fun take on some of that news. You’ll also soon see a new website and an approach that we hope will help people really start understanding cancer for the disease it is – a deadly one, but one we can actually prevent a lot of the time.
And now to the news:
What Happened to Red Wine Being Good for You?
I, like many people, enjoy a cold beer on a hot day or a glass of wine with dinner. Yes, I do.
I also work in public health, so I’m not going to lie, I was pretty unhappy to see all the recent headlines saying “There’s No Amount of Safe Alcohol,” “Moderate Alcohol Consumption Is Out,” and “No Amount of Alcohol Is Good For Your Health, Global Study Says.”
Whaaaat? Even those “moderate” glasses of red wine?
So, let’s break it down. The Lancet, one of the most prestigious medical journals around, published a global study that looked at alcohol use and health effects from 1990 to 2016 in 195 countries.
The good news still is that moderate drinking may help protect against heart disease. The bad news is it’s a risk for a lot of other bad things (23 to be exact), including cancer. That’s not news to us here at Louisiana Cancer Prevention, as it’s a risk factor in many preventable cancers, but since that’s what we’re all about, you do need to know this is yet another study that confirms it.
That leads to the next question: Do we think or expect people to never touch a drop of alcohol again? No.
Summing It Up
This was a meta-analysis of many observational studies. Observational studies have limitations, such as confounders (look it up), yet there is enough information present so that the findings are statistically significant. So, while some people may quibble at the data, it is clear that even a little alcohol raises risk, with the point of this study being that the safest level of drinking is none. And that is contrary to health advice that says moderate alcohol use (often considered one or two drinks a day, depending on weight, gender, etc.) can actually be good for you. When it comes to alcohol, the bad outweighs the good.
The next question is how much risk? At small amounts of alcohol, as it turns out, not that much. Or as was summed up in this article (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/28/upshot/alcohol-health-risks-study-worry.html), out of a group of 100,000 people who drink one drink a day, four may have a problem caused by drinking. If that same number of people start having to two drinks a day, 63 people will have a problem caused by drinking (based on this study). And the problem grows exponentially from there.
It many ways, it comes down to people understanding the nature of risk. There are things we do every day that put us at risk, but we hopefully try to have an overall understanding of that risk so that we can take safeguards when possible, as well as react appropriately so that we don’t give undue weight to it.
A professor who specializes in public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge, David Spiegelhalter, said the following to the BBC, which was quoted in this article (www.npr.org/2018/08/24/641618937/no-amount-of-alcohol-is-good-for-your-health-global-study-claims):
"There is no safe level of driving, but governments do not recommend that people avoid driving. Come to think of it, there is no safe level of living, but nobody would recommend abstention."
So what are the takeaways here?
1) Alcohol is a risk for cancer. Noelle LoConte, an oncologist and associate professor at the University of Wisconsin, told NPR last June. “We’re not proponents of complete abstinence …. But from a cancer prevention standpoint, drinking the least amount of alcohol possible would be the best strategy.”
2) Alcohol is not good for you, contrary to some health advice. Even in moderation, overall it leads to more bad than good, and that needs to be understood on a population and policy level.
3) Small amounts of alcohol probably will not raise your risk that much. However, large amounts do. (And you should know people generally underestimate how much they drink and eat.) If you need help quitting, please call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or go to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at www.samhsa.gov.
Louisiana Cancer Prevention & Control Programs Communications Manager