Wrong to say alcohol causes cancer

Dr Samir Zakhari of the US Distill Spirits Council writes in Stuff:

Cancer is not an easy topic.  Most of us will know someone who has been affected by this terrible disease in its many forms.

And as a society we are desperately seeking both the cause and the cure for cancers with great advancements being made on both counts.  But as our knowledge advances one thing is clear – to say that one thing causes cancer is simply wrong.

Unfortunately last month in Wellington a group of academics made such a claim – and not for the first time.  They said that causes cancer which is simply incorrect and not supported by any credible research .

The reality is excessive use of alcohol can be one of many factors, but that is not the same as saying “causes”:

Cancers are caused by many things. The key to managing the risk of getting cancer is knowing what those factors are and trying to manage exposure to them. And yes, immoderate consumption of alcohol over an extended period of time does increase your risk of getting some cancers – as does lack of exercise, diet, genetics, age, gender, smoking, drug use and a range of other lifestyle-related factors.

Alcohol is not the same as tobacco. Tobacco is harmful to you full stop. Alcohol is fine in moderation.

Globally there is recognition that moderate alcohol consumption can be part of a healthy lifestyle.  There are many well-documented health benefits associated with moderate consumption – particularly in later life and associated with cardio-vascular function.

The key to this statement is the word ‘moderate’.

The New Zealand Government’s Health Promotion Agency recommends that, to reduce the long-term health impacts associated with alcohol, women should have no more than two standard drinks a day and men no more than three with both sexes having at least two non-drinking days a week.

Again, moderation.

Dr Zakhari’s background:

Dr Samir Zakhari is a researcher on the medical effects of alcohol consumption, and a former director of the Division of Metabolism and Health Effects with the American National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. He is now senior vice president of science at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

UPDATE: The article in Stuff was edited from the original submitted, which made it less clear. The paragraph that was submitted is:

Unfortunately this week in Wellington a group of well-intentioned researchers made such a claim – and not for the first time.  They said that moderate alcohol consumption causes cancer.  While chronic abusive alcohol consumption is associated with a plethora of health problems including cancer, attributing cancer to social moderate drinking is simply incorrect and is not supported by the body of scientific literature.

So chronic alcohol consumption is a factor, but moderate consumption is not.

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