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Alcohol: The Real Culprit in Breast Cancer Risk

by Dr. Virginia Herrmann

The association between alcohol intake and breast cancer risk is well established.

Many studies even suggest there is an increase in breast cancer with only one drink per day. Despite the elevated risk of breast cancer and other health concerns, American women, over the past 20 years, have increased their consumption of alcohol. It is estimated one of every three American women drink, and 10 percent drink more than two drinks per day. There is a 10 percent increase in breast cancer risk for every 10 gram per day of alcohol consumed, which is less than a 4 ounce glass of wine. You may have heard “a glass of wine a day is good for your heart.” This has been shown for men, but the data is less clear for women. Keep in mind, women metabolize alcohol differently than men, and this may account for the higher risk of cirrhosis of the liver in women who drink compared with men. Light to moderate drinking in women, one to three drinks per week, has been associated with a decrease in death from heart disease. However, heavier drinking, two or more drinks a day, is associated with a significantly increased risk of death from breast cancer and cirrhosis.

Is there a safe drink? The risk of breast cancer increases with the amount of alcohol consumed, not the type of alcohol consumed.

It also matters at what stage in a woman’s life she drinks alcohol. Heavy drinking early in life does not increase a woman’s chance of breast cancer. However, studies have shown the greatest risk of breast cancer is associated with drinking after menopause.

Women for example, who drink during their 50s, have an increased risk of breast cancer. This risk is even greater in women who are also taking hormone replacement. Alcohol interferes with folate metabolism in a woman’s body. To reduce that interference, women who drink alcohol should be certain to take folate (300-500ug/ day) which may help reduce the risk of breast cancer. Most multi-vitamin supplements contain 400 ug of folate per tablet.

In summary, drinking alcohol in women who are menopausal, or after age 50, increases the risk of breast cancer. Women who are also taking hormone replacement are at particular risk. If you drink alcohol, reduce your risk of breast cancer by: Drinking in moderation (one to three drinks per week) Take a vitamin supplement with folate.

Reprinted with permission from Bluffton Today


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