Health Ailments

“Drinking May Have Given Me Cancer. The Alcohol Industry Has Worked Hard to Bury the Link”

“Drinking May Have Given Me Cancer. The Alcohol Industry Has Worked Hard to Bury the Link”
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Stephanie Mencimer is a 47-year-old writer.  By all her accounts, she had taken the necessary steps to be free and clear of breast cancer.  Careful diet, exercise, BPA free water bottles and breastfeeding her children were all part of Stephanie’s regimen.  Additionally, Stephanie was a “decade and a half younger than the median age for breast cancer diagnosis in the United States”. That’s why she was so shocked when her doctor told her she had breast cancer! It inspired her to do more research… and she was not impressed with what she found out. 

Stephanie Mencimer’s Unexpected Breast Cancer Diagnosis

A visit by Stephanie to the radiology department last spring revealed a malignant breast tumor: Stephanie had stage 2 cancer.  As a journalist, Stephanie was eager to discover the root cause of this diagnosis.  She compared the list of scientifically known risk factors of breast cancer: age, hormone therapy, and the like, but none of them applied to her. Then she stumbled upon one her doctors have never mentioned: alcohol. 

According to Stephanie, she was “not a heavy drinker” (1), though, she had consumed a lot of alcohol in her lifetime.  Stephanie was caught off guard between the link of alcohol and cancer, saying, “not once has any doctor suggested I might face a higher cancer risk if I didn’t cut back on drinking” (1). 

Upon more research, she realized that scientists have known about the alcohol and cancer link for a long time- WHO had even declared it a Group 1 carcinogen in the 1980’s. So why don’t doctors talk about it? 

Proven Links Between Alcohol And Cancer

Alcohol and cancer- a glass of red wine - in a red crossed out circle

The National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services lists consumption of alcoholic beverages as a known human carcinogen (2).  Quite simply, the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time, the higher their risk of alcohol causing cancer. 

Despite popular belief, even moderate consumption of alcohol presents a potential risk of cancer.  Despite this truth, moderate alcohol consumption, such as a daily glass of red wine, is stretched so far as being a suggested form of cancer prevention.  While in fact, studies show that 1 alcoholic drink per day may be associated with a 1.1x higher risk of liver cancer (7). 

Strong evidence exists that alcohol causes cancer at seven sites in the body and there are probably more.  The 7 sites of the body known to experience cancer caused by alcohol are the liver, colon, rectum, female breast, larynx, orolarynx and the esophagus (4). 

Alcohol causes cancer by initiating the consumption of the toxic chemical called acetaldehyde (3).  When alcohol is consumed, enzymes in our mouth convert alcohol into a carcinogen known as acetaldehyde (1).  Acetaldehyde can cause cancer by damaging DNA and stopping our cells from repairing this damage (3). 

An additional concern in the consumption of wine is the presence of glyphosate.  Glyphosate, a common herbicide used to spray soil around grapes, serves the purpose of killing bacteria.  When glyphosate makes its way into wine or beer and is consumed, the potential to cause cancer exists.  

(Wait, what? Learn more about glyphosate in wine and beer

Watch this video highlighting the risk associated with alcohol and cancer:

A Long History of Alcohol Industry Marketing Ploys

Americans spent nearly $72 million on alcohol in 2017 (5).  The alcohol industry is a cash cow for alcohol companies, and marketing efforts have done their best to keep it this way.  It wasn’t too long ago, back in 1988 when “California added alcohol to its list of cancer-causing chemicals that required a warning label” (1).  To counter negative messages about alcohol, alcohol marketing campaigns have been adopted to portray alcohol as a potential health benefit.    

alcohol and cancer - an advertisement - 2 glasses of liquor - underneath the words drink and be happy

  • In 1988, Robert Mondavi, a wine vintner, and leader of the wine industry told the New York Times that “wine has been praised for centuries by rulers, philosophers, physicians, priests, and poets for life, health, and happiness” (1). 
  • In 1991, former “60 Minutes” host Morley Safer ran a segment eluding to red wine as being beneficial in lowering heart disease.  Safer, made reference to the “French Paradox”, in that the French eat heaps of red meat, cheese and cream yet have lower heart disease rates than Americans”. This 60 minutes episode was flaunted by the vice president of Miller Brewing Co (1). 
  • In 1995, the US wine industry attempted to have the Department of Agriculture publish positive health benefits of wine in the Dietary Guidelines for America.  The attempts proved to be of no avail. 
  • A long and current tradition is the sponsorship of football games and Nascar events by alcohol companies.  Now, alcohol companies have made their way into sponsoring 5k races and triathlons (1).

The tactics employed by alcohol companies can be likened to those used by tobacco companies.  Tobacco companies have always been forced to use creative marketing in order to counter the negative effects associated with smoking.  In the 1930’s Lucky Strike marketed their cigarettes to women as an appetite suppressant (6).  Camel cigarettes in the 1940’s produced an ad campaign that claimed doctors gravitated towards Camel products.  Implying that if doctor’s liked them, then they must be safe (6). 

What We’ve Learned

Alcohol, in any dosage, has the potential to increase your risk of cancer.  This includes red wine, sorry.  Despite how creative and clever alcohol advertisements will be, this fact remains.  Not only is alcohol content harmful in itself, but also the chemicals making their way into alcohol such as glyphosate.  Briefly discussed was the potential harm of the common herbicide, more can be learned here.

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