Just how much does alcohol affect your risk for breast cancer? There have been a number of conflicting studies over the last decade or so, leaving many women confused. Is the occasional drink okay? How much is too much?
Studies Show a Link
Though research shows that moderate drinking can lower risk of cardiovascular disease in both men and women, it’s also linked with a number of cancers, including mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, breast, colon, and rectum.
Some examples of studies that connect alcohol and breast cancer include:
- A 1998 study found that alcohol consumption was associated with a linear increase in breast cancer incidence in women over the range of consumption reported by most women. In other words, the more women drank, the more their risk increased.
- A 2002 study found that the relative risk of breast cancer increased by 7.1 percent for each additional 10 grams per day intake.
- A recent study shows that the more alcohol a woman drinks between her first menstrual period and her first full-term pregnancy, the higher her risk of developing breast cancer.
- In 2011, Harvard researchers reported that the greater the alcohol consumption, the greater the risk of developing breast cancer, no matter what women drank. They came to this conclusion after tracking the health of over 100,000 women over a 28-year period.
This is just a small sampling of the studies on the matter. According to the Susan G. Komen foundation, more than 40 cohort and case-control studies support a link between alcohol and breast cancer risk. “Overall, having one to two drinks (or more) per day appears to increase the risk of breast cancer compared to not drinking,” the website states.
Different Results When Looking at Mortality
Though alcohol can affect your risk of developing breast cancer, so far, it doesn’t seem to affect your risk of actually dying from breast cancer. A recent study by researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital analyzed the relationship between alcohol and breast cancer survival.
They looked at data from over 22,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer between 1985 and 2006, and found that during the 11.3 years of follow-up, women who consumed three to six drinks per week had a significantly reduced risk of dying from breast cancer.
Women who drank once or twice a week had a borderline significant reduced risk of death from breast cancer, but in general results didn’t vary much between types of alcohol, including beer, wine, or cocktails.
The researchers concluded that moderate alcohol consumption (3-6 drinks a week) is associated with a reduced risk of death due to breast cancer, but that alcohol intake after diagnosis didn’t have any benefits or cause any harms.
What to Do?
How do you know if what you’re doing is risking your health? You need to take everything into consideration. Alcohol can help reduce risk of heart disease, so consider your family history. Are you more likely to get heart disease or breast cancer? Make adjustments accordingly. Remember you can get similar heart health benefits from grape juice as from red wine.
Overall, consider limiting your alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day (the current recommended amount from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). Alcohol affects women differently than men. You can drink less and have a higher blood level-which can cause more damage-because of your size and your body fat. So just because your significant other drinks two, stick to your one or less.
According to Sara Gottfried, M.D., a physician with over 20 years experience and author of The Hormone Cure, scientists still aren’t sure exactly how alcohol may affect or cause breast cancer, but they do know that it increases circulating estrogen levels. It also makes the liver work extra hard to process it, as it breaks down into a compound called “acetaldehyde.” She suggests the following tips to help protect your health:
- Choose red wine or other alcoholic drinks as it contains healthy antioxidants, which can counteract any free radical damage.
- Keep your liver happy by using detoxification techniques like massage and the exercise “rebounding.” Consider herbs that support liver function like milk thistle, dandelion root and artichoke leaf. (For more information on how to detox your life, sign up for one of my complementary Detox Your Life sessions here.)
- Avoid combining alcohol with medications, particularly acetaminophen (Tylenol), which is already taxing to the liver. In cases where patients took too much acetaminophen, cat times combined with alcohol, caused acute liver failure.
- Make sure you’re drinking enough water to stay hydrated and to flush out toxins. Watch your urine color-it should be a light yellow.
- Eat plenty of cruciferous vegetables to help metabolize estrogen in a healthy way.
What do you think about drinking and breast health? Please share your thoughts.
Picture courtesy nuttakit via freedigitalphotos.net.
“Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits,” Harvard School of Public Health, http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/alcohol-full-story/.
Smith–Warner SA, Spiegelman D, Yaun SS, et al. Alcohol and breast cancer in women: a pooled analysis of cohort studies. JAMA. 1998; 279:535–40, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9480365?dopt=Citation.
Hamajima N, Hirose K, Tajima K, et al. Alcohol, tobacco, and breast cancer-collaborative reanalysis of individual data from 53 epidemiological studies, including 58,515 women with breast cancer and 95,067 women without the disease. Br J Cancer. 2002; 87:1234–45, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12439712?dopt=Citation.
“Does alcohol affect breast cancer survival?” NHS Choices, April 9, 2013, http://www.nhs.uk/news/2013/04April/Pages/Does-alcohol-affect-breast-cancer-survival.aspx.
Amanda Chan, “Drinking Alcohol During Early Adulthood Raises Women’s Breast Cancer Risk,” Huffington Post, September 1, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/01/alcohol-breast-cancer-early-adulthood-women_n_3845678.html.
Windy Y. Chen, et al., “Moderate Alcohol Consumption During Adult Life, Drinking Patterns, and Breast Cancer Risk,” JAMA November 2, 2011; 306(17):1884-1890, http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1104580.
“Table 3: Alcohol and breast cancer risk,” Susan G. Komen, http://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/Table3Alcoholconsumptionandbreastcancerrisk.html.
“Your Boobs on Booze: How Alcohol Affects Your Breast Health,” Sara Gottfried, M.D., April 10, 2012, http://www.saragottfriedmd.com/2012/04/10/boobs-booze/.