A group of doctors and medical researchers from around the world have made an encouraging discovery about alcohol and cancer.
In their study, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, they looked into how stopping alcohol consumption might affect the risk of developing certain cancers.
Previous studies have already shown that drinking alcohol regularly can increase the risk of several types of cancer, including those of the mouth, esophagus, larynx, colon, and breast.
The World Health Organization even stated that no amount of alcohol is safe in terms of cancer risk.
The researchers were curious: if someone who regularly drinks alcohol stops, does their risk of cancer go down? To answer this, they reviewed data from over 90 studies that looked at alcohol-related cancers and what happens when people stop drinking.
They found strong evidence that cutting back or quitting alcohol can indeed lower the risk of cancers, especially those in the mouth and esophagus. However, the evidence was less clear for breast, laryngeal, and colorectal cancers.
One key point the team made is that it’s not the alcohol itself that’s mainly to blame for cancer, but a toxin called acetaldehyde. This substance is produced in the liver when it breaks down alcohol, and it’s also responsible for hangovers.
By drinking less, the body makes less acetaldehyde, which lowers the chance of developing some types of cancer.
While the study couldn’t pinpoint exactly how much the risk decreases when someone stops drinking, or how quickly the benefits kick in, the researchers did make an important observation.
Stopping drinking for just a month and then starting again isn’t likely to make a big difference in cancer risk. This means that for those who give up alcohol as a New Year’s resolution but then go back to drinking, the health benefits might not be significant.
To really lower the risk of cancer, it seems that maintaining a reduced alcohol intake or staying alcohol-free is key.
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The research findings can be found in New England Journal of Medicine.
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