Alcohol may increase cancer risk for some

It sure seems that every time we see a study that gives us some good health news, another one comes along which paints an even more dire picture. As does this one, at least if you’re of Asian descent.

It has long been suspected that alcohol consumption can increase the risk of some types of cancer. This study purports to now have solid proof. (No pun intended.)

First evidence from humans on how alcohol may boost risk of cancer

Silvia Balbo, Ph.D., who led the study, explained that the human body breaks down, or metabolizes, the alcohol in beer, wine and hard liquor. One of the substances formed in that breakdown is acetaldehyde, a substance with a chemical backbone that resembles formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen. Scientists also have known from laboratory experiments that acetaldehyde can cause DNA damage, trigger chromosomal abnormalities in cell cultures and act as an animal carcinogen.

“We now have the first evidence from living human volunteers that acetaldehyde formed after alcohol consumption damages DNA dramatically,” Balbo said. She is a research associate in the laboratory of Stephen Hecht, Ph.D., a noted authority on cancer prevention at the University of Minnesota. “Acetaldehyde attaches to DNA in humans ― to the genetic material that makes up genes – in a way that results in the formation of a ‘DNA adduct.’ It’s acetaldehyde that latches onto DNA and interferes with DNA activity in a way linked to an increased risk of cancer.”

It turns out that about 30% of Asians have a variant of the alcohol dehydrogenase gene so are unable to metabolize alcohol into acetate, and that ultimately translates into an increased risk of esophogeal cancer. Native Americans and native Alaskans have the same variant. That’s over one-and-a-half billion people.

Of course the study used vodka for their tests, and there was no mention in anything I read if there might be a difference between spirits and wine or beer.

As always: Everything in moderation.