You might need a drink to drown your sorrows after hearing this one. But that might be a bad idea.
Even light alcohol use is linked with increasing the risk of several leading cancers, including those of the breast, colon, esophagus, and head and neck, according to research reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology and released Wednesday.
The society cites between 5% and 6% of new cancers and cancer deaths globally as directly linked to alcohol. “People typically don’t associate drinking beer, wine, and hard liquor with increasing their risk of developing cancer in their lifetimes,” Bruce Johnson, the society’s president, said in a statement.
The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, recommends public education about the risks between alcohol abuse and certain types of cancer, including oropharyngeal and larynx cancer, esophageal cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, breast cancer, and colon cancer. It also recommends education about the influence of excessive alcohol use and cancer risks and treatment complications.
“The importance of alcohol drinking as a contributing factor to the overall cancer burden is often under-appreciated. In fact, alcohol drinking is an established risk factor for several malignancies,” the researchers found. “In the United States, it has been estimated that 3.5% of all cancer deaths are attributable to drinking alcohol.”
Read more: 6 reasons retirees drink too much
Previous research suggests that even moderate alcohol consumption can take a toll on your brain. A study published last June in the British Medical Journal monitored 550 adults over 30 years, starting in 1985, and found that drinkers who imbibed as little as four pints of strong beer or five large glasses of wine a week were three times more likely to have parts of their brain atrophy.
The more the study participants drank, the faster their brains deteriorated, and cognitive tests revealed steep declines in brain functioning. Tests included asking participants to name as many words as they could that start with the same letter in one minute.
Researchers found that moderate drinkers were more likely to develop “hippocampal atrophy,” a deterioration in the part of the brain associated with long-term memory that’s often seen in Alzheimer’s patients.
The findings fly in the face of the long-held assumption that a modest amount of alcohol is fine because it could reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic. The study also pokes holes in the idea that light drinking can be beneficial, researchers said. Previous studies have found red wine to be healthy because it prevents some cells from dying, according to research published in Frontiers in Nutrition, and a substance in red wine called resveratrol prevents damage to blood vessels.
Heavy drinking has long been linked to dementia, while light drinking was thought to protect the brain from decline. It may be a good idea to go for a brisk walk after your evening cocktail. Another recent study found that just one drink a day can increase the chance of developing breast cancer, but that vigorous exercise can cut your breast cancer risk.
Researchers say their latest findings support the U.K. health officials’ recent decision to recommend that adults drink less alcohol, and call into question the U.S.’s official dietary guidelines, which give adult men the green light to guzzle up to 24.5 units a week, which is the equivalent of about 12 beers. “These results support the recent reduction in alcohol guidance in the U.K. and question the current limits recommended in the U.S.,” the study concluded