Researchers say alcohol strength key to cancer risk

By Jeremy Laurence

Scientists say if we must tipple, we should do so wisely to help protect us from a variety of cancers. Photo / NZ Herald
Scientists say if we must tipple, we should do so wisely to help protect us from a variety of cancers. Photo / NZ Herald

Wine drinkers should switch to lower-alcohol varieties to reduce their chances of getting cancer, scientists say.

By substituting a light German Riesling (10 per cent alcohol) for a heady Australian Chardonnay (14 per cent), people can continue to enjoy a glass or two at the same time as reducing the risk to their health.

A daily wine drinker who typically enjoys a large glass (250ml) could cut their risk of bowel cancer by 7 per cent by making the change. Most people would barely notice the difference but would boost their chances of avoiding the disease, scientists said yesterday.

Alcohol is known to increase the risk of several cancers, including those of the breast and bowel. Consumption has soared in recent decades and it is estimated to cause 30,000 to 40,000 deaths a year.

As well as bowel cancer, which affects 37,000 people a year in the UK, there is also strong evidence that switching to a lower-alcohol wine would reduce the risk of breast cancer, liver cancer, and cancers of the oesophagus, mouth, pharynx and larynx.

The reduction in risk would be of the same as that for bowel cancer, the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) said.

Scientists estimate 20,000 cases of cancer a year are linked to alcohol. The charity recommends that if people drink at all, they should limit consumption to two drinks a day for a man and one for a woman.

Dr Rachel Thompson, the WCRF's science programme manager, said: "From a cancer-prevention point of view it is best not to drink at all.

"But we have to be realistic, and the fact is that many people in the UK enjoy a drink and see it as part of their social life.

"If you drink quite a lot at the moment, the best advice is to reduce the number of drinks you have. But if people do not want to do this, switching to a lower-alcohol alternative is still something positive they can do.

"If everyone who drinks 14 per cent wine switched to lower-alcohol wine, it is likely hundreds of cancer cases in the UK a year could be prevented."

Dr Thompson said that although lower-alcohol wines were more difficult to find in high-street stores, it was a lifestyle change that could make a long-term health difference.

She added: "The food and drink industry does now seem to be taking the issue more seriously. But there is still much more it should be doing.

"We would like to see supermarkets and off-licences make it easier for their customers to choose less unhealthy options."

The charity said that people could also reduce their cancer risk by doing the same with other alcoholic drinks.

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