In my last post, I did a quick and dirty write up of a Q&A session I had with our Breast Cancer Wellness Group. The whole issue of alcohol and breast cancer kept bugging me so I wanted to spend a little more time understanding how it influences risk for breast cancer and how significantly we see it influencing hormones.
With my reading, it was clear that I needed a clarification in my last post, so I posted an update on that page regarding foods and beverages and how they influence estrogen levels in the body. While I had previously stated that they didn’t influence it, what I should’ve said was that it doesn’t influence it significantly enough that we know that to be the mechanism for increased risk.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
I’m going to go ahead and put this up front, because sometimes I think people spend too much time stressing over little choices, when they should be out enjoying their life! So if you are ready for the bottom line, and go on about your day, here you go!
- It is clear that the more you drink the higher the risk! The highest risk of an increase in hormone levels related to alcohol intake seems to be among women who consume more than 20g per day of alcohol (FYI a standard drink is about 14g of alcohol). I.E. the more a woman drank over the course of 20 years, the more likely she is to develop breast cancer.
- The AICR evidence-based recommendation regarding alcohol and cancer risk is to not to drink alcohol. However, their recommendations also recognizes that modest amounts of alcohol may have a protective effect on heart disease and type 2 diabetes. If you do drink alcohol, limit your consumption to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.
- The AICR evidence-based report for breast cancer survivors also states that the data is limited, and there is not conclusive evidence showing a link between alcohol and breast cancer survivor mortality or risk for recurrence.
Truthfully, there are a lot of other things that influence our hormones more significantly. However, since I did so much reading on it, I thought I’d share some of the key points!
How to Interpret the “Studies”
Here is the major challenge that I find for my clients regarding how and where they get their information. Whether on news websites, social media or on TV, the headlines regarding topics like this can really get you worked up! Here’s one specifically on this issue from a few years ago:
Studies On Alcohol and Estrogen Levels
- DHEAS=dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate. Read a brief intro on it here from the Mayo Clinic.
- SHBG=sex hormone-binding globulin. Read a brief bio about it here from the University of Rochester Medical Center
What is 20g of Alcohol?
- 5 oz. of wine,
- 12 oz. of beer
- 1.5 ounces of liquor
If you are trying to decide between:
- Not drinking alcohol at all, and
- Drinking 8 ounces of wine every day.
I think the answer is clear. Opt for #1.
In the real world, most of us have a happy place somewhere in between. When it comes to day-to-day decisions for normal people like you and I, these study findings are often not particularly helpful. They are useful and interesting to those in the research world, but can just cause more confusion and disorientation for the general public. Even journalists are pretty bad about interpreting the results!
Here are 2 important statements from them:
- For overall cancer prevention, AICR recommends not to drink alcohol. However, our recommendations recognize that modest amounts of alcohol may have a protective effect on heart disease and type 2 diabetes. If you do drink alcohol, limit your consumption to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.
- AICR Diet and breast cancer survivorship: Data is limited and therefore no conclusive evidence on link with alcohol.
- AICR Diet and breast cancer risk (pre and post menopausal breast cancer): Even small amounts of alcohol increase breast cancer risk, so if you do decide to drink, keep to no more than 1 standard drink (12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of liquor) per day.
What would Julie Do?
- Alcohol and Breast Cancer Review from OncologyNutrition.org
- AICR info on alcohol,
- Fact sheet on alcohol and cancer from the National Cancer Institute.