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Sharing a bottle of red wine with some friends or having a pint of beer in front of the TV can seem like a fairly harmless activity but evidence shows that each glass of alcohol you drink puts your health in jeopardy. According to the UK government, 24% of adults in England and Scotland are regularly drinking over the recommended amount of alcohol, increasing not only the risk of liver damage and heart disease, but also seven different types of cancer. British Journal of Cancer states that alcohol causes 3.3% of all cancer cases in the UK.
In this article, we will explore how alcohol increases your risk of up to seven different types of cancer, what you can do to cut down or stop drinking altogether and what resources are available to help you.
There are four different types of alcohol, only one of which is suitable for consumption. Ethanol is the one we find in our wine, beer and spirits. Ethanol is made through a process called fermentation (when yeast or bacteria reacts with sugars in fruit, barley or rye, etc). The longer the fermentation, the stronger the alcohol content. Spirits also go through a process known as distillation. This is where some of the water is removed, leaving a stronger concentration of alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it can slow down your brain activity and leave you feeling drowsy and discombobulated.
The average alcohol content of different drinks is:
Similar to tobacco smoke and UV radiation, alcohol is a group 1 carcinogen (i.e. a substance capable of causing cancer), which means there is sufficient evidence to show that alcohol causes cancer. It's not just heavy drinkers who are at risk. Even small amounts of alcohol can increase the risk of cancer and the more often you drink, the greater the risk. According to Drinkaware.co.uk, somewhere between 11,500 – 12,500 new cancer cases each year in the UK are attributed to alcohol consumption. Cancer research UK believes that figure could be higher, highlighting that 17,000 UK cases of cancer in 2020 could be linked to alcohol-related.
For a deeper delve into how drinking alcohol can cause cancer, further details can be found on the Cancer Research UK blog How does alcohol cause cancer?
Research is still ongoing to fully understand the link between cancer and alcohol, however it is now widely accepted that alcohol can cause seven different types of cancer.
The short answer to this is yes. According to Breast Cancer UK, drinking alcohol puts you at a higher risk of developing breast cancer and drinking alcohol during pregnancy may increase the risk of breast cancer in daughters. Alcohol raises circulating oestrogen levels which increases the risk of breast cancer. Around 4,400 breast cancer cases each year are caused by drinking alcohol. Alcohol doesn’t only contribute to breast cancer – it’s also linked to at least six other types of cancer in women and men.
According to guidelines for alcohol consumption, produced by the UK Chief Medical Officers, men and women should not drink more than 14 units a week. 14 units of alcohol is equivalent to six standard glasses of wine or six pints of average-strength beer. However, just one pint of strong lager or a large glass of wine can contain more than three units of alcohol. You can find out the alcohol strength (ABV in %) on the bottle or can.
The team here at Livewell Dorset are committed to helping you cut back on your alcohol consumption. Our Habit Hacker tool, designed by health and psychology experts, will help you with techniques tailored specifically to you and your needs. We also have advisors and coaches on hand to help you achieve a healthier lifestyle. We've supported people across the whole of Dorset and we would love to help you too. Register or contact us today.
The NHS has lots of useful information on how to cut down on alcohol and can help you find support services in your area.Drinkaware Trust is an independent alcohol education charity that helps people make better choices about their drinking. Their website has a number of useful tools to help you cut down on your alcohol consumption.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is free to everyone and provides support to those with alcohol dependence concerns.
You can also speak to your GP who will be able to talk through your drinking habits and help find the right support for you.
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