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Alcohol plays such an integral part in most of our social lives that we drink it without truly considering the health consequences. We’ve been told about the dangers of excessive drinking but regular low-level drinking isn’t generally considered an issue. Now a new study Otago University in New Zealand has discovered credible evidence that even drinking smaller amounts of alcohol directly causes seven different forms of cancer.

Research published in the journal Addiction shows a clear correlation between alcohol and cancer of the oropharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum and breast. The findings were made after a thorough review of ten years worth of research assembled by the World Cancer Research Fund. These findings also suggested that alcohol also increased the likelihood of skin, prostate, and pancreatic cancer as well – although this link would need to be explored further.

One of the key findings of the study was the link between regular consumption of alcohol and cancer, rather than just excessive consumption. Professor Jennie Connor, who headed up the research at Otago University, suggests that regular low-level consumption is a significant health concern – ‘the highest risks are associated with the heaviest drinking but a considerable burden is experienced by drinkers with low to moderate consumption, due to the distribution of drinking in the population.’

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How does alcohol cause cancer?

Although the correlation between drinking alcohol and cancer has been uncovered by the research, the scientific reasons as to why the correlation exists are still being researched. There are several factors that scientists believe lead to an increased likelihood of developing cancer due to alcohol consumption:

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The main component of alcohol is ethanol, which has been proven to be a carcinogen and therefore consuming it increases your likelihood of being diagnosed with cancer. Alcohol damages cells in the throat and mouth, which can lead to the growth of cancer cells.

There is evidence to suggest that alcohol increases the level of estrogen in the body, which has been shown to aid the development of breast cancer. Drinking alcohol has been shown to interfere with the absorption of nutrients, this lessens your body’s ability to fight off cancer cell growth. Alcoholic beverages are generally high in calories which can lead to obesity, one of the biggest causes of cancer.

Health tips

With the scientific evidence assembled by Professor Jennie Connor and her team the question moves to – how can we protect ourselves? The easy answer is, of course, to just give up alcohol completely. However, alcohol is such a large part of how we socialize that for many of us it is nearly inconceivable to cut it out altogether.

There are ways that you can limit the damaging effects of alcohol on your body:

  • Keep to an average of no more than one alcoholic beverage a day.
  • Drink more slowly to limit the amount you drink and to avoid overloading your stomach and bowel with alcohol.
  • Don’t smoke while drinking, the cocktail of the two is extremely toxic.
  • Always wait until your glass is empty before refilling in order to monitor your consumption and avoid over-consuming.
  • Eat healthy snacks while drinking to give your body a nutrient boost during digestion.
  • Drink equal parts water to alcohol, water is a natural way to flush out toxins.
  • At least once a month, have an alcohol free week to allow your body to repair the damage done through drinking.

The results that have come out of Otago University’s study have shown us that cutting down on our alcohol consumption should be at the forefront of every health plan. So don’t be afraid to order yourself a non-alcoholic beverage next time you’re out with friends or family. You don’t need alcohol to have a good time but cutting down could be a key factor in a cancer-free life.

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