We have long been aware of the links between alcohol and certain cancers, including breast cancer, with an abundance of research pointing to its harmful effects. However, some advice in the past has suggested that a glass of wine a day may actually be good for us. So where should we turn when we need some tips on the tipple?
A recent highly publicised review of multiple studies into the subject has suggested that alcohol consumption could be linked to at least seven types of cancer, breast cancer being one of them, and that the claimed health benefits are irrelevant. The study, conducted in New Zealand, found strong evidence of a direct, harmful effect of drinking – even at low levels.
Of course, the link between alcohol and disease is nothing new – we all know about its potential damage – and it’s important to recognise when an occasional treat becomes a regular habit.
This recent study reflects updated guidelines from Public Health England in January 2016, which encourage us to drink as little as possible, recommending a limit of 14 units of alcohol per week for both men and women – down from 14 to 21 for women and 21 to 28 for men. The guidelines also recommend that there can be no safe level of alcohol consumption and that, if we do drink, we spread our units out in the week and don’t save them up, as drinking them all in one go could be more harmful to our health.
This is contrary to some advice stating that a glass of wine a day may actually be good for us. Current evidence does show that drinking around seven to 10 units per week may reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, particularly in women aged 55 and over. However, we know that this level of drinking causes a small increase to the risk of breast cancer, with drinking one unit of alcohol per day (half a pint of 4 per cent beer or 80ml of 13 per cent wine) raising the chance of getting the disease by five per cent.
At Prevent Breast Cancer, we recommend following The 2-Day Diet, which was devised by our research dietitian Dr Michelle Harvie and scientific director Professor Tony Howell, to maintain a healthy lifestyle and reduce your risk of breast cancer. The 2-Day Diet doesn’t expect you to give up alcohol; rather, it recommends drinking no more than 10 units of alcohol per week, which is consistent with the low level of drinking that some studies have found to be beneficial. While this is stricter than the Government guideline of 14 units per week, alcohol is high in calories and can therefore increase your risk of breast cancer via weight gain, too, so we would advise you to keep your intake as low as you can.
To find out more about our diet and lifestyle research projects, click here.