Pro IQRA News Updates.
Drinking more than six drinks per week leads to an increased risk of a number of health problems, including cancer, according to proposed new guidelines published Monday.
Each level of alcohol consumption has a net negative impact on health for nearly every illness reviewed by the Canadian Center for Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), a national advisory organization, according to their new report. These include heart disease, some types of cancer and cirrhosis of the liver.
Health risks become “higher” when a person drinks six or more drinks per week. And for women who drank three or more drinks per week, the risk of health problems increased more sharply compared to men, the study showed.
“The main message of this project is that when it comes to alcohol, less is better. Everyone should try to reduce their alcohol use,” said Catherine Paradis, senior researcher and policy analyst at CCSA and co-chair of Canada’s Low Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines.
It’s no secret that alcohol isn’t good for you, experts say. It has been classified as a Group 1 carcinogen (carcinogenic to humans) for decades by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
But not everyone realizes that alcohol use has been linked to a variety of health risks, including at least seven types of cancer, Paradis said.
That’s why the guidelines — which the public can consider — talk about the health risks and how they increase with the amount of drink.
Dr Fawaad Iqbal, a radiation oncologist at the Durham Regional Cancer Center in Oshawa, Ontario, who was not involved in the report, said he strongly supports the overall message.
“These updated evidence-based guidelines will save lives. I applaud the teamwork that brought this all together,” Iqbal said in an email interview after the report was released.
WATCH | Why don’t most Canadians know about alcohol?cancer risk?
‘People in Canada deserve to know’
But experts say the risks associated with alcohol consumption need to be made clearer beyond these recommendations. Iqbal and those working on the CCSA guidelines want to see cancer warnings and standard drink quantities listed on bottles or cans of alcohol.
“Whether consumers choose to use that information or not is up to them. But there’s a lot of evidence out there that says if you say front and center, ‘it’s damaging your health and you could get cancer from this,’ people will change their decision-making. them about how much they drink,” Iqbal said.
Since the last alcohol drinking guidelines were released in 2011, the evidence around health problems and alcohol consumption has changed a lot, Paradis said. That’s why four committees—including three panels of scientific experts—were formed to review the evidence to update the guidelines.
Those involved looked at several dozen studies on alcohol and health issues as part of the new guidelines. Several data sources—including death and disability data for 2017 to 2019 from Statistics Canada—were used to form the risk calculation. They also used mathematical modeling, according to the report.
While all levels of alcohol consumption carry some risk, their report suggests a range of risks depending on how many glasses of wine or bottles of beer healthy people have each week.
They found that the health risk was negligible or low with two or fewer glasses of wine per week. If the number of drinks rises to somewhere between three and six standard drinks a week, the risk of health problems is moderate.
But drinking more than six glasses of wine or cider per week puts the risk of health problems “higher.”
For example, men who consumed about five grams of alcohol per day on average had a nearly 16 percent increased risk of liver cirrhosis. That risk increased to more than 306% if the man consumed 50 grams of alcohol per day, according to the report.
“We knew it would be a shock and some people might even be upset about it. But we didn’t start this project to win a popularity contest. We are scientists,” Paradis said.
“Our whole perspective during this project was that people in Canada have a right to know.”
Drinking increases breast cancer risk
The new findings are significantly different from the 2011 guidelines made by the CCSA. They suggest no more than 10 standard drinks a week for women and 15 standard drinks a week for men.
Paradis said one of the reasons the 2011 recommendation was higher was due to the belief that alcohol has some good health benefits for cardiovascular disease. But now, new research suggests that may not be the case anymore, he said.
“In fact, in our own research, we found that alcohol is neither good nor bad at low levels for protection against some cardiovascular diseases. At higher levels, it actually has a detrimental effect,” he said.
Alcohol use in Canada causes nearly 7,000 cancer deaths annually in Canada, according to the report.
And specifically for women, drinking three or more times a week had a greater risk of health problems than men, according to the report’s data. They include several reasons why, including differences in metabolism.
Breast cancer risk increases with more alcohol, Paradis said, adding that one in 35 women will die of breast cancer in Canada.
“If you drink six drinks per week, you increase by 10 percent your chances of being that woman,” she says, adding that the risk starts at one or two standard drinks per week.
Allison Garber, owner of a communications business in Halifax and a sobriety advocate, said she wished she had known more about the increased risk of cancer sooner. Both her mother and grandmother had breast cancer, and she lost her mother to cancer.
“I think this report will save a lot of lives,” he said, adding that it would be good to see an increased focus on education.
“I believe that it’s an individual choice whether people drink alcohol or not, but I think it’s fundamentally important that it’s an informed choice.”
Label health risks
Some Canadians have reported an increase in binge drinking over the past few years.
A Canadian Statistical Survey released in 2021 shows many Canadians are not just pouring themselves a glass. Nearly one in five people who answered the survey said they consumed five or more drinks — the equivalent of a bottle of wine — on the days they reported drinking alcohol in the previous month.
The agency said this was higher than before COVID-19 hit.
The CCSA report began before the pandemic, but Paradis said adults need to know more about the alcohol they buy and how it affects their health.
Paradis and other authors of the report, along with Iqbal, said bottles of wine and other alcohol should clearly spell out health warnings and nutritional information. He adds that people need to be able to count their drinks to know how much alcohol they’re consuming, but can’t do so unless it’s explicitly spelled out on the label.
“The main message we want to get across is that overall, alcohol is not good for your health and when it comes to alcohol, drinking less is better,” says Paradis.
The guidelines are likely to become official guidelines this fall.