Categories: General Health

Health Risks of Alcohol Consumption

Except for pharmaceutical poison, there are essentially only two drugs that Western civilization tolerates: Caffeine from Monday to Friday to energize you enough to make you a productive member of society, and alcohol from Friday to Monday to keep you too stupid to figure out the prison that you are living in.”

Bill Hicks

A renowned Irish critic and political activist, George Bernard Shaw once said, “Whiskey is the liquid sunshine”. While he may have his set of reasons to believe that, what he didn’t say was, if you’re on a whiskey diet you’ll never wake up to see the sunrise. Not just that, the whiskey diet will make you lose many productive hours of your life along with putting a hole in your pocket every day. At first, you take a drink, then your drink takes a drink and by the end your drink consumes you. 

Every liquor has different amounts of alcohol content. In the United States, a “standard” drink contains around 14 gms of unadulterated alcohol. For e.g.:

  • Some light beers contain 4.2% alcohol content
  • 12 ounces of regular beer, has usually about 5% alcohol content
  • 5 ounces of wine, has around 12% alcohol content
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, has round 40% alcohol content

As per the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism (NIAAA), moderate drinking for men and women is up to 4 and 3 drinks/day and a maximum of 14 and 7 drinks/week. 

Studies have shown that alcohol is associated with many health conditions. It’s proven that alcohol consumption can cause depression, stroke, high blood pressure, hepatitis, cirrhosis to name a few among many other critical health conditions. Every alcoholic drink you consume is linked to some type of cancer. The more you consume, the higher your cancer risk.   

There is reliable proof that alcohol is a cancer-causing agent. It has a direct impact on 3.5% of all cancer-related deaths. Worldwide, 5.8% of all cancer casualties and 5.5% of new cases are all related to alcohol consumption. Even with studies showing it’s an irreversible effect on health, only 13% of people realize that cancer is one of the health risks of alcohol consumption. A vast majority of people want to be ignorant about the health impacts it has on their bodies. 

Alcohol consumption increases the risk of mouth, throat, voice box, esophagus, bowel, liver, and breast cancer. Whereas, smoking is most commonly related to lung cancer, along with 15 other types of cancer. It was also seen that consuming even low levels of alcohol (up to 2 drinks/day) was linked to an 8% – 23% greater risk of prostate cancer when compared to no drinking. It is also the main cause of 5% to 11% of all breast cancer cases.

As per the recent BMC public health study, a bottle of wine is equal to smoking 5 cigarettes for men and 10 cigarettes for women. The author estimates that, in non-smoking men and women, the risk of developing cancer in their life associated with the consumption of one bottle of wine/week is 1% and 1.4%, respectively. Which means that if 1000 men & 1000 women each drank a bottle of wine/week, an extra 10 men and 14 women are at risk of developing cancer at some point in their life. Usually, in men, the risks are associated with gastrointestinal cancer, whereas in women 55% of cases are associated with breast cancer. The author also estimated that consuming 3 bottles of wine/week can give rise to different health problems in both men and women. It increases the risk of cancer by 1.9% in men and 3.6% in women, which is around 19 in 1000 men and 36 in 1000 women. It is equal to smoking 8 and 23 cigarettes/week in men and women. 

In every individual, the risk of developing cancer through smoking or drinking varies. The study conducted did not take into consideration the duration of smoking or the time since stopping. It emphasized the fact that there is no ‘safe’ level of alcohol consumption for averting cancer risks. Some people are at a higher risk of specific cancers due to their pre-existing conditions like obesity or genetics. 

It is observed that the vast majority of people who smoke are also more likely to drink. In this case, smoking and drinking at the same time can trigger different types of cancer, causing more harm. The way alcohol impacts a person’s health is very complex. It can damage many body parts and factors like genetics, diet, and lifestyle can contribute to the development of cancer.  

The DNA found in our body is an “instruction manual” that administers our cell’s normal growth and function. When a person consumes alcohol, their body breaks it down to a chemical called “Acetaldehyde”. This chemical damages the DNA and prevents the body from repairing the damage. The damaged DNA causes the cells to grow out of control resulting in a cancerous tumor. Primarily, it happens in the liver, but it can also occur in the mouth. 

Body hormones also get compromised due to alcohol consumption. Hormones are responsible for the functioning of cells. In women, it is found that alcohol triggers an increase in the levels of estrogen. This growth in estrogen levels is considered as a key factor in the development of hormonal based cancers, like breast cancer.  

With so many unnecessary health risks, it is very important to realize that you are stronger than your greatest excuse. Drinking might seem fun and looks good, but it is a worthless excuse to kill your dreams and ruin your health. Take the road to be sober and experience what it is to wake up without a hangover. It’s your responsibility to save yourself and your dreams. Remember you are full of great worth. Live healthily. 

Dr. Indu Bansal Aggarwal, Director & Senior Consultant – Oncology, Radiation OncologyNarayana Superspeciality Hospital, Gurugram

Narayana Health

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