Moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages can have a place in a healthy lifestyle, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The question is what counts as moderate. Two drinks for men and one drink for women per day are permissible, says the agency. Excluded from these recommendations are children and adolescents, women who are pregnant or trying to conceive, and individuals who cannot control their alcohol intake, are on certain medications, or plan to drive or operate machinery.
Moderate Drinking May Not Be
As Harmless As Previously Thought
All that is well known and widely accepted. But a new study found that even smaller amounts of alcohol than what is deemed acceptable by the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans may be too much when it comes to preventing certain diseases, including cancer. In fact, having just one drink per day can increase the risk.
Researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) determined that alcohol-related cancer accounted for three to four percent of all cancer deaths in the United States annually and that even light drinkers were at an increased risk.
Well over half a million Americans die from cancer every year. Of these, approximately 20,000 cases are linked to alcohol, according to the study.
We talk a lot about tobacco and poor diets, but alcohol use is a factor that is often missed in the discussion over preventable diseases and deaths, says Dr. David Nelson, director of the Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program at the NCI and lead author of the study report. While the majority of cancer-related deaths from alcohol occurred in people who consumed substantially more than what is considered moderate drinking, Dr. Nelson’s team found that 33 percent of the diseased had no more than one alcoholic drink per day on average.
Although only 18 percent of men and 11 percent of women are heavy drinkers, meaning they have more than the recommended daily amount on any given day, it is still a significant health concern, said Patricia Guenther, a nutritionist at the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion and author of a separate study on the issue, in an interview with Reuters.
Among men, 31 to 50 year olds consume the most alcohol, according to the study. Among women, the heaviest drinking takes place between ages 51 and 70. The researchers did not investigate the reasons for the differences in age.
Besides cancer, other well-known health risks from alcohol use are high blood pressure, heart disease, liver damage, pancreatitis, nerve damage, depression and dementia.
Moderate alcohol use has long been considered as harmless if not beneficial. Especially red wine is thought of by some as heart healthy. But conflicting messages like these only confuse consumers, says Dr. Nelson.
“The purported benefits of alcohol consumption are overrated when compared to the risks,” he says. “Even if you take into account all the potential benefits of alcohol, it causes 10 times as many deaths as it prevents worldwide.”