Wine Good for Bones and Heart – Raises Cancer Risk: Even a Glass a Day?

Once again we get mixed messages in studies on alcohol consumption. Just as I was toasting to wine creating bone mass a few months ago, a new, and “major” study came out this week saying that wine and/or spirits increases the risk of cancer. But read on. There’s much more to this story.

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Researchers with Boston University Medical Center and the National Cancer Institute found that alcohol is to blame for one in every 30 cancer deaths each year in the U.S., or about 20,000 deaths annually. That works out to about 3.5 percent of the nation’s more than 577,000 cancer deaths per year.

And even moderate drinkers have some reason to worry, researchers said. Up to 35 percent of all alcohol-related cancer deaths are linked to drinking 1.5 drinks or less a day, the report found.

The study was published online Feb. 14 in the American Journal of Public Health.

The research showed that breast cancer accounted for most alcohol-related cancer deaths in women, about 15 percent or some 6,000 cases a year. In men, cancers of the mouth and throat were the most common cause of alcohol-related cancer deaths, also about 6,000 cases a year, according to NBC News. Source: AARP Blog

For a long time we’ve known that alcohol likely prevents stroke and heart attacks. The drink before bedtime is thought to open arteries sufficiently that untold numbers of stroke are prevented while sleeping, and the American Heart Association has said that “teetotalers” have a higher risk of mortality from coronary heart disease, than those consuming moderate amounts of alcohol (described as 2 glasses of wine or 2 drinks for men and one glass of wine or one drink for women – a glass of wine being a 4 oz serving and 1-1/2 oz of alcohol in a drink.)

More than a dozen prospective studies have demonstrated a consistent, strong, dose-response relation between increasing alcohol consumption and decreasing incidence of CHD. The data are similar in men and women in a number of different geographic and ethnic groups. Consumption of one or two drinks per day is associated with a reduction in risk of approximately 30% to 50%.15 Studies of coronary narrowings defined by cardiac catheterization or autopsy show a reduction in atherosclerosis in persons who consume moderate amounts of alcohol. Source: Dr. Thomas A. Pearson, AHA

But all cancer studies are scary when they show we are at risk for something that is a part of our routine lives – like breathing.

The Mayo Clinic includes moderate amount of alcohol in their stroke prevention measures:

Drinking alcohol in moderation, if at all. Alcohol can be both a risk factor and a preventive measure for stroke. Heavy alcohol consumption increases your risk of high blood pressure, ischemic strokes and hemorrhagic strokes. However, drinking small to moderate amounts of alcohol may help prevent ischemic stroke and decrease your blood’s clotting tendency.

Today, doctors are at odds about the new cancer study. Heart disease kills 600,000 people in the U.S. every year – one in every four deaths. So, there’s that. Then there’s this:

“As expected, people who are higher alcohol users were at higher risk, but there was really no safe level of alcohol use,” study coauthor David Nelson, M.D., with the National Cancer Institute, told HealthDay News.

Not everyone was ready to throw away the corkscrew, however. Eric Rimm, an associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, told NBC News that while the new study provides a valuable update of alcohol’s effect on cancer deaths, it doesn’t change his mind about the positive effects of  moderate drinking on heart disease.

“I think they’ve pooh-poohed the heart benefits, which is as strong as any evidence can be,” Rimm said. Studies have shown that those who don’t drink have a 50 percent higher risk of heart attack than those who do.

Even some cancer experts note that smoking is a much more powerful factor in cancer deaths than alcohol. Although about 20,000 cancer deaths can be attributed to alcohol each year, more than 100,000 cancer deaths are caused by smoking, Susan Gapstur with the American Cancer Society told HealthDay News. (See the AARP Blog link above)

About building bone mass:

Researchers drew blood from participants at the beginning of the study so they could determine the levels of indicators related to bone turnover. Once these initial findings were recorded, participants were asked to abstain from drinking alcohol for two weeks. After the two weeks, blood samples were drawn again and findings compared. The results showed bone removal had increased.

The night following the two weeks of abstention, researchers gave the women specific amounts of alcohol to drink (based on their average intake). The following morning they returned to have their blood tested. The results showed a rapid reduction in bone turnover. Read the entire story at The Examiner.

I don’t have a drink once a day. It just doesn’t fit into how I live my life, but believe me, being small-boned and fair and concerned about osteoporosis, I have seriously thought about it. To do so, I’d have to slow down – linger somewhere for more than a few seconds, or sip my wine at the computer and that’s not on my to-do list. Photo Credit: (Pier Paolo Cito/Associated Press)

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