Alcohol Gives You Cancer? The Real Story

Most of the media were talking up how dangerous alcohol is for cancer risk — based on an analysis of other studies. But is there more to this than meets the eye?

Certainly reports have not jumped to wild conclusions — at least based on what the researchers themselves said:

Alcohol remains a major contributor to cancer mortality and YPLL [years of productive life lost]. Higher consumption increases risk but there is no safe threshold for alcohol and cancer risk. Reducing alcohol consumption is an important and underemphasized cancer prevention strategy.

Let’s start with some disclaimers before trashing two major points that the researchers made. Obviously alcohol has to be used wisely and carefully. Your use of alcohol could encourage someone else to have a problem. So use the normal caution you employ in anything that can be positive if used properly and harmful if abused.

Okay, back to the two points in the research:

-Point (A): “Reducing alcohol consumption is an important and underemphasized cancer prevention strategy.”


In fact, alcohol consumption (according to the study’s results) accounts for just 3.5% of cancers. That’s a significant number of people but less important than seven other factors!

1) Smoking (33% of all cancers)
2) Overweight/obesity (20% of all cancers)
3) Diet (5% of all cancers)
4) Lack of exercise (5%)
5) Occupation (5%)
6) Viruses (5%)
7) Family history (5%)

Perhaps we should work on these other factors first because they are all more significant. Certainly moderation in alcohol consumption is good — but not taking it too far.

And take vitamin D. Those of you who’ve subscribed to HealthWire have seen my special report on D’s role in preventing cancer. That can make a big difference — and an even bigger one when combined with a healthier lifestyle.

-Point (B): “There is no safe threshhold for alcohol and cancer risk.”


In fact, Dr. Howard LeWine of Harvard Medical School adamantly objects, according to Medscape:

 Dr. LeWine cited a recent meta-analysis of studies of alcohol use and cardiovascular health (BMJ. 2011;342:d671). More than 2 million men and women were followed for an average of 11 years. That meta-analysis found that moderate drinkers had lower risks for coronary artery disease, death from any heart or blood vessel disease, and death from any cause, including cancer, than nondrinkers.

And this reporter asked Dr. Woodrow Monte what he thinks of this “no safe threshhold.” Monte is Professor Emeritus of Nutrition from Arizona State University. Here’s his answer and practical conclusion:

That is an easy one — since it has been proved by a number of very good studies that the incidence of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and several other important diseases are twice (or more) as frequent in people that drink no alcohol as those who have only one drink a day. Then people should be encouraged to drink one drink a day and no more!

Basically, Dr. Monte’s research has found that the grain alcohol in beer, wine, and mixed drinks serves as an antidote to another alcohol called methanol or wood alcohol. The dangerous and toxic wood alcohol is found in many foods, certain diet beverages, all cigarettes, and the environment.

Those foods include canned and bottled fruits and vegetables as well as smoked meats. All beverages, foods, and chewing gums with the diet sweetener aspartame are the worst for having high methanol. Cigarette smoke is loaded with methanol. In some industrial settings, workers may be exposed to methanol as well.

Of course, you don’t want kids and pregnant women drinking alcohol. They and anyone else (such as multiple sclerosis patients) who want to cut out methanol should avoid the sources. Being Italian, Monte notes that simmering tomato sauces several hours boils off the methanol — making the resulting dishes safe.

Monte has written an entire book about this methanol madness called “While Science Sleeps.” His website goes by the same name.