Alcohol Causes Cancer?

This was the headline on the cover l last Friday’s i paper and the first I’ve known to be utterly stupid.

It cited a new study from Professor Jennie Connor from the University of Otago in New Zealand which claims alcohol caused about 500,000 deaths from cancer just in 2012, ie nearly 6% of deaths worldwide. She published her evidence in the journal Addiction where she linked alcohol to cancer of the mouth, throat, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, bowel and breast.

As if this was not enough, she further claimed that the supposed health benefits of drinking were “Seen increasingly as disingenuous or irrelevant” compared with the risk of developing a range of cancers.”

Try selling that to the French or Italians.

There are now demands for the UK to take action to make these risks known, and to label alcoholic drinks appropriately. 

I am not impressed with this research. Humans have been drinking alcohol for a very very long time yet it is now that we have so much  cancer. And don’t give me that stuff about us living longer – infant mortality kept the average down.

Does this research suggest that people – or groups or countries even – that are teetotal have lower levels of cancer than those where alcohol is consumed? Of course not – it would have shown up in statistics long ago.

Dr Jana Witt of Cancer Research Uk suggests the link to cancer of the breast is via its effect on hormones, but I think this would require pretty high levels of consumption to make much difference. She also mentions the production of acetaldehyde which damages the inside of cells, making hem unable to repair themselves. I was not aware this was a problem in cancer – more that the cells were growing control. Cell damage is more associated with ageing.

People are far more complex than this study suggests. One of the few factors associated with cancer is grief: a large number of people die shortly after their spouse. We all have cancer in us, just as we all have cold germs. They get out of control when we are run down, and depression is a significant factor in this. If people drink small amounts with their meals, this can help them digest their food. It can help them relax after a hard day. But it can also be for drowning their sorrows, in which case, it may add to the risks, but it is not the primary one.

If alcohol is causing damage now, I also query what’s in the alcohol. It forms in fermenting fruit, and occasionally in our own bodies when not enough oxygen is circulating to break it down, so why would that happen? Is there something in modern alcohol that prevents it being broken down? Are people too sedentary, or eating too much while drinking? All these are factors that could have an impact.

But we have had so many food scares people are rightly fed up with them so I doubt if this latest warning will have any effect whatsoever. If we believed them all we’d die of starvation instead.

The health industry is becoming like the boy who cried wolf. One day there will be a real health scare, and nobody will pay any heed to it.

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