Breast Cancer and Alcohol Consumption

by Natalie on March 22, 2011

Did you know one of the most well researched dietary factors related to breast cancer is alcohol? The American Cancer Society (ACS), National Cancer Institute (NCI), and American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) all recognize alcohol as a known factor for increasing a women’s risk for breast cancer. According to NCI, the level of risk rises with the amount of alcohol consumed. So the more you drink, the greater the risk.

How Much is Too Much?

For cancer prevention, the AICR recommends to avoid alcohol.  If alcohol is consumed at all, the AICR recommends to limit intake to one drink per day for women. One drink is defined as 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine and 1.5 oz of distilled spirits.

If you currently have breast cancer or are a breast cancer survivor,  I would recommend to avoid alcohol.

Why Does Alcohol Pose this Risk?

According to the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research (WCRF/AICR) report summary on breast cancer, there are several possible reasons for alcohol’s affect on breast cancer risk:

  • A substance of alcohol’s metabolism may be carcinogenic
  • The body may generate free radicals in the response to alcohol’s effects (free radicals cause damage to body cells when formed)
  • Alcohol acts as a solvent by enhancing entry of carcinogens into cells
  • interferes with estrogen metabolism and action which can influence hormone levels

Interestingly, this report also suggests that adequate folate intake can partially lessen the risk from alcohol consumption.  If you decide to have an occasional drink, the vitamin folate found in many foods may offer some protection.  Sources of folate in the diet are: green leafy vegetables, beans, legumes, and citrus foods.  The way I look at it, just some more incentive to eat those wonderful leafy greens and beans!

Breast Cancer and Alcohol Consumption | Tips for Success

I don’t know about you, but I find this recommendation very difficult to follow in social situations. There is usually some unspoken expectation or pressure to drink in these situations. In my experience, people will notice immediately if I am not drinking and assume 1) I am pregnant, or 2) I am not up for having a good time. It always amazes me how fast people notice. If I do decide to drink, one thing I have done to help me stick to the guideline for cancer prevention is to sip my drink slowly. Another thing is to set the drink down while I am talking. I find if I am talking with a drink in my hand, the drink is gone before I know it.

My mom practices what she calls the “one finger rule”. If we are all together celebrating a family event, my mom never wants to miss out on the toast. What she will do is hold up her finger horizontally to her wine glass, and tell us to pour her a “finger of wine”. It ends up only being about an inch of wine in the glass. This way, she can participate in the toast and have a taste of wine. We always give a chuckle when she does this but maybe she is on to something. Maybe the “one finger rule” can work for you!

Another option is making a tasty non-alcoholic alternative. Some ideas include:

  • Sparkling water or club soda with a cucumber slice, lime slice and torn up mint leaves
  • Two ounces of fresh or 100% fruit juice on ice, topped with some sparkling water or club soda. I like to use pomegranate juice here.
  • I have also ordered a club soda with a lime wedge at many bars so I can feel like I am having a cocktail.



photo by: founding farmers

M March 23, 2011 at 5:49 am

Great to know this information..

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