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How Much Alcohol Is Really Safe?

It will come as bad news for people who enjoy a daily tipple - when it comes to reducing your risk of cancer, there is no such thing as a safe amount of alcohol.

Alcohol itself is a Class A human carcinogen and increases the risk of breast, colon, liver, and oral cancers. It is a drug that suppresses the central nervous system, like barbiturates, sedatives, and anesthetics. Alcohol is not a stimulant, even though the person who drinks seems stimulated because the alcohol is affecting portions of the brain that control judgment. It is a depression of self-control, not a stimulant.

Most of the studies on red wine clearly show that it is not the alcohol itself that gives wine its protective effects. What are beneficial are the abundant quantities of compounds that are found even in red wine that has been dealcoholized. Specificially resveratrol is a phenolic compound that contributes to the antioxidant potential of red wine.

French researchers said most nations including the UK and U.S. set their drink limit guidelines to deal with short-term effects of alcohol and were not designed to prevent chronic diseases.

Therefore while most current daily alcohol guidelines discourage binge drinking and visits to the hospital, they do not take long-term health risks into account.

The team led by Paule Latino-Martel, of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, said based on the evidence 'there is no level of alcohol consumption for which cancer risk is null.'

Writing in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, they said the WHO International Agency of Research on Cancer had found alcohol to be carcinogenic in both animals and humans.

The researchers added that a joint 2007 report of the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research warned of the link between alcohol and cancers in the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon-rectum and breast cancers.

Therefore they said current 'sensible drinking' limits are inadequate for the prevention of cancer and new international guidelines are needed.

'On the whole, alcohol is considered an avoidable risk factor for cancer incidence and, more generally, for the global burden of disease, Dr Latino-Martel and his co-authors said.

'Although guidelines are currently practical for health professionals and health authorities, the time has come to reconsider them using a scientific basis independent of any cultural and economic considerations and to discuss the eventuality of abandoning them,' they said.

'Considering our current knowledge of the relationship between alcohol consumption and cancer risk, national health authorities should be aware of the possible legal consequences of promoting drinking guidelines that allow consumers to believe that drinking at low or moderate levels is without risk.'


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