By Lynda Wallas

Alcohol; mixed health messages



On one side of the debate is the reported fact that a glass of wine a day may lower the risk of heart disease, while the down side is that wine, beer and cocktails could increase a women’s risk for breast and colon cancer. So, is it a case of moderation…. or should we be considering cold turkey altogether for our ongoing health?

In my mind (i.e. not an expert, and opinion based purely on intuition and common sense rather than medical fact), you would think that there must be something beneficial about a glass of red wine…. after all there’s a heap of ‘red’ supplements made from grapes (and other red berries) that claim to be exceptionally good for us, and grapes are almost always on the list of the ‘healthiest foods’.  I think too that anything that makes us relax, sit and slow down, potentially with good conversation and a good laugh must be a health positive in this hectic and stressful world we live in.

I could also tell you that my ex husband used to drink 2-4 glasses a night and looked young for his age (at that time…..), never got sick, and healed really quickly from cuts and wounds (without scarring). I don’t recall him ever going to a doctor. Maybe nothing to do with the red wine, but then again…….
I would have to also add that he ate three protein-rich meals a day, never skipped a meal, and didn’t really snack or eat sweets. Of course, I don’t know what he looks like now, perhaps the alcohol caught up with him.

We actually used to make our own wine, which was one of the most fun things I’ve ever been involved in. We had a few rural acres about an hour out of Melbourne and got interested in the local food and wine scene. We purchased grapes from our neighbours, did a quick online wine making course, and in 2006 made our first Shiraz. The whole process is fascinating…. and kind of random, clearly, as we won best Shiraz and best red at our first local wine show…. complete novices spurred on by early success!

It was wonderful to have people come out for lunch and to be able to serve our own wine, and to go out to the shed and taste a little of whatever was brewing in the French oak barrels. Downside was that it was also not far to go each night to grab a bottle for with dinner. I was careful since I was on the mend from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but in many ways I think my progress increased when I stopped being so scared of everything I ate or did and just relaxed into enjoyment and moderation.
Again, based on intuition rather than medical fact.

Alcohol linked to cancer in 2017 studies

A recent study in the UK reported that just one drink a day was responsible for 13% of cancers of the breasts, liver, rectum, mouth, throat and esophagus. Hmmm, that’s a little sobering! It is believed that alcohol may increase the risk of cancer by damaging DNA, and may even act as a solvent – dissolving harmful chemicals and carrying them into cells. The BBC reported last year that even half a glass of wine (or a small beer) per day increased the risk of breast cancer.

For mid-life women, it’s of interest to learn that alcohol can raise estrogen levels and, as a result, can increase breast cancer risk.
I certainly notice that I start to feel like I’m running hot, a rise in body temperature and a start up of flushes again, when I have alcohol. In fact, all the menopause symptoms reveal themselves when I’ve been indulging in alcohol….. or dairy foods.

Exactly how alcohol increases the risk of cancer is not completely understood. Potentially there are many contributing factors, such as damage to cells, distribution of harmful chemicals, negatively impacting absorption of nutrients, and disrupting estrogen and other hormone levels…. as well, of course, as body weight impacts.

Are some alcoholic drinks better than others?

This from www.cancer.org

‘Ethanol is the type of alcohol found in alcoholic drinks, whether they are beers, wines, liquors (distilled spirits), or other drinks. Alcoholic drinks contain different percentages of ethanol, but in general, a standard size drink of any type — 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor — contains about the same amount of ethanol (about half an ounce). Of course, larger or ‘stronger’ drinks can contain more ethanol than this.

Overall, the amount of alcohol someone drinks over time, not the type of alcoholic beverage, seems to be the most important factor in raising cancer risk. Most evidence suggests that it is the ethanol that increases the risk, not other things in the drink.’

It appears that we can no longer live by the assumption that only heavy drinkers are likely to get cancer, namely liver cancer. These days any alcohol consumption could contribute to cancer, and cancer of a whole raft of areas of the body…. from mouth, to breast, to stomach, to colon.

It certainly makes no sense to focus on lowering your chances of heart disease by drinking daily. There are other ways to do that. So, the story we tell ourselves about doing good things for our heart is a very one-sided argument, and next time you fancy using that delusion to justify popping the cork you need to say the word CANCER out loud.

The romantic notion of alcohol…..

I don’t know about you but I was looking forward to old age, sitting on the porch while the sun goes down and sipping on a glass of ‘something’ alcoholic most nights. Even if only a small glass, potentially a port or a half glass of red wine. I’m not sure I’m ready to give that image away.
I wonder if being healthy in other aspects will allow me to do that without impacting on my cancer status…?
Something we all have to weigh up and decide for ourselves I imagine.


Lynda Wallas
Lynda Wallas
About me

I’ve always been interested in health and fitness…. which turned out to be a good thing when fertility treatment in my 30s took a toll on my health, leading to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and early onset menopause. More about Lynda...

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