People who engage in light to moderate consumption of alcohol--two glasses of drinks for men and one glass for women each day—could help increase their risk to develop cancer, according to new research conducted Harvard University scientists.

In a study featured in the British Medical Journal, researchers from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health examined the impact on health of alcohol consumption for more than 100,000 adults, consisting of around 47,000 men and 88,000 women beyond 30 years old.

The median for alcohol drinking shown in the research was 5.6 grams in male participants and 1.8 grams for female participants every day.

The researchers discovered that the potential link between light drinking and an increase in cancer risk was mostly observed among male participants who have tried smoking at some point in life, as well as in men who had never even been a smoker.

The findings for women are significantly different, however, as even those who had never smoked in their lives experienced an increase in their risk for alcohol-related cancer, including breast cancer, despite only drinking one alcoholic beverage a day.

In the accompanying editorial for the study, the researchers noted that individuals with a history of cancer in their family, especially women who have a history of breast cancer in their family, should try to consider lowering the alcohol consumption to below the limits of what is recommended.

The research team also pointed out that since smoking is known to be a primary risk factor for a majority of cancers related to alcohol, the impact of alcohol consumption on cancer development could be driven in part by its adverse effect on people who smoke.

The study differentiates light to moderate alcohol consumption as drinking less than 15 grams (two drinks) of alcoholic beverages for women daily and 30 grams (three to four drinks) of alcohol for men each day.

The researchers also found that people who are heavy drinkers or abstainers were less likely to have regular physical examinations by their doctors and be tested for prostate, breast or colorectal cancer compared to individuals who are light to moderate drinkers

These same heavy drinkers or abstainers also had considerably lower dietary scores and underwent fewer physical activities than others. Heavy drinkers were also found to be more likely to become long-term smokers.

Photo: Simon Cocks | Flickr 

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