Study Links Alcohol to Increased Cancer Risk. Should You Be Worried?

Alcohol use permanently damages stem cell DNA and increases the risk of cancer, according to a popular new study. We asked a local nutritionist if you should steer clear of that beer.

A highly publicized recent study in the journal Nature has been making major waves after it connected alcohol consumption to permanent stem cell damage, which in turn may increase drinkers’ risk of contracting cancer. The study, which was conducted on mice, found that a harmful chemical called Acetaldehyde is formed in the body following the consumption of boozy beverages. We asked Hartsdale-based nutritionist Rhoda Markman, DTR, ACE whether you should worry about the new study or belly up to the bar at will.

According to Marksman, the first step is admitting that alcohol is by no means a super food.

“It’s hard to use the word ‘healthy’ and alcohol’ in the same sentence because alcohol is not a nutrient,” she explains. “In addition, alcohol can actually inhibit the absorption of many key vitamins.”

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However, Markman says that it difficult to categorically state that alcohol is always harmful since each person’s body metabolizes it differently. “Moderate consumption of alcohol can be fine for one person and damaging to another,” explains Markman. “It’s difficult to know who will be affected.”

However, heavy use of alcohol does have some pretty common negative effects. “In the short term, heavy alcohol consumption can cause shakiness, nausea and vomiting, blackouts, and temporary loss of consciousness,” says Markman. “But over time, signs of heavy alcohol abuse can lead to depression, a compromised immune system, liver damage and, as the article states, links to increased risks of several types of cancer.”

While the study may seem alarming, Markman recommends you put it all into perspective. “There are so many studies showing various indications,” she says. “Some studies link moderate alcohol consumption of red wine to health benefits, while others show links to damage. Again, I think everyone is different and everyone’s body will react differently to alcohol consumption.”

The American Heart Association defines moderate alcohol consumption as one drink per day for women and two per men, explains Markman. “I think this is a useful guideline,” she says. “They warn people that with an increase, there are higher risks of having elevated blood pressure, obesity, and stroke. I think we need to pay attention to this.”

In light of the recent study, Markman agrees your best bet is probably kicking back one or two fewer drinks when you find yourself out on the town — but not just due to cancer risk. “I think people need to watch their alcohol consumption,” says Markman. “Many of my clients who drink too much also eat too much and have weight issues. The excess calories from alcohol aren’t necessarily the problem — it’s the eating behaviors that go along with alcohol. Alcohol lets our guard down and makes food tastes better. I always use the example of ‘Would you rather have a glass of wine with some cheese or some water with some cheese?’ The answer is obvious.”

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