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Alcohol and cancer

In order to understand how alcohol or any toxic substance causes cancer in the body, we must first understand cancer itself.

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The truth about alcohol and cancer

This is not the article you want to be reading. I know, I get it. I’m Irish!

As a health care professional and advocate for adopting healthier lifestyle behaviours, it is my duty to at least bring to your attention the very real association between alcohol consumption and cancer. We’ve all heard it – too much booze is not good for us. A lot of us have felt it – too much booze does not feel like it is good for us. But how many of us are straight with the fact that too many a tipple can actually cause cancer?

In order to understand how alcohol or any toxic substance causes cancer in the body, we must first understand cancer itself.

What is cancer?

Our bodies are made up of hundreds of thousands of cells. Usually the cells in our body undergo a specific cycle. They grow, die and are replaced by new cells in a highly regulated way. The process happens in such a controlled fashion that cells must reach a certain size before kicking the bucket and being replaced.

Cancer cells on the other hand tend to grow fast and furiously. Instead of dying, they divide and replicate and start to spread to other organs due to overcrowding and a lack of space in the organ of origin. There is little control or regulation involved here.

Chemotherapy and other treatments are often needed to kill cancerous cells. Their purpose is to slow down the growth of cells or demolish a tumour completely.

How does a normal cell become a cancer cell?

We all have cells which have the potential to become cancerous. A lot needs to happen however before they can actually turn cancerous. Essentially the cells must:

    • be able to replicate
    • have damage to their DNA
    • develop faults in genes as a result of this damage

Cancer therefore occurs when DNA damage accumulates to cause faults in the genes. The damage can happen due to a whole host of factors ranging from alcohol consumption and smoking, to air pollution, unhealthy diets or asbestos exposure. Even the ageing process, which is largely out of our control, can result in DNA damage and therefore can be a cause of cancer.

For the purpose of this article though, let us now shine the light on alcohol.

Why does alcohol cause cancer?

The digestion of alcohol in our body is actually quite different from the digestion of nutrients from food. Alcohol gets absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream. Sometimes directly from the stomach and sometimes from the small intestine. It travels through the bloodstream to our body’s cells and to our wonderful natural detoxifier – the ‘liver’ – which works around the clock to help break down or digest alcohol. The breakdown product (or byproduct) of alcohol is a substance called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde has the ability to damage DNA and permanently alter it. If it is not broken down further it builds up in the cells (where alcohol is consumed to excess). If the cells are unable to repair the damage, then the cancer process can begin.

So in a nutshell, the more beers you consume, the higher the likelihood for cells to become damaged and for this damage to accumulate and give rise to cellular division and replication (cancer).

How much alcohol is ok?

Scare tactics over, the irony of this is, I’m writing this on a sunny Friday afternoon prior to a scheduled meet up with an old friend for a glass of vino… or two. Before you lock up the drinks cabinet, let’s not forget that many centenarians enjoy a regular tipple – but probably as part of an otherwise very balanced way of life. It is of course possible to live to a ripe old age and still enjoy a gin and tonic but really it all comes back to our old friend (or foe) moderation

Know your limits.

Guidelines

*The guidelines above are approximate and there are many factors that might affect how your body responds to alcohol (age, sex, physical size). 

What next?

If you think you are drinking more than you probably should be, you might want to chat to your GP or a trusted friend about what to do next. Some of the articles in the reference list below may be helpful to read.

Don’t feel you can’t ever en a drink, just be mindful of the potential effects of cumulative excess on your body.

Again, know your limits.

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102, Sydney Street,
Chelsea, London, SW3 6NJ

Tel: 020 3488 0182‬

Email: team@onkohealth.co.uk

Onko programmes work alongside your cancer treatment.
Onko does not provide clinical treatment for cancer.

Newsletter

Coming to you soon

Get in Touch

102, Sydney Street,
Chelsea, London, SW3 6NJ

Tel: 020 3488 0182‬

Email: team@onkohealth.co.uk

  • ONKO FOUNDERS
Onko programmes work alongside your cancer treatment.
Onko does not provide clinical treatment for cancer.

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