Alcohol has always been known to cause liver problems. The jaundice and resulting death from end-stage cirrhosis is as ugly as it is well-known. Many people don’t realize, however, that alcohol is even more dangerous than originally thought, particularly in cases of chronic high levels of consumption.
Recent research by the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology has shown that consuming alcohol results in the formation of a toxin called acetaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen. The toxin interferes with the formation of red blood cells and the action of stem cells in the body.
What Are the Effects of Alcohol on Cancer?
The direct effects of alcohol and its accompanying acetaldehyde are at least contributory to 3.6 percent of all cancers that occur in the United States. Alcohol is directly responsible for 3.7 percent of all fatal cancer diagnoses as well. Furthermore, alcohol can exacerbate the malignancy of existing tumors, and it turns cancer cells into more aggressive phenotypes than those that are not exposed to alcohol.
Perhaps most insidious of all, alcohol has been shown to alter the DNA of stem cells. The damage renders the body unable to produce new blood for a period of time, depending on the level of alcohol consumption. Additionally, the damaged stem cells are liable to turn cancerous even in healthy people.
The Dangers of Oxidation
A secondary effect is oxidation of cells, which is similar to the way cyanide can kill you. Chronic alcoholics have red faces for the same reason as cyanide victims: excessive oxygen in the skin because the underlying cells can no longer metabolize oxygen properly. This oxidation not only affects red blood cells but also fat cells and proteins, including DNA. The damage can be irreversible and often results in the destruction of these cells.
The process of oxidation can also turn into a chain reaction through the action of molecules known as free radicals. These destructive molecules, which are produced by the action of alcohol on the body, are also called reactive oxygen species. They are unstable and will easily bind to other molecules in a person’s cells. The need to reduce free radicals in the body is what led to the widespread use of antioxidants, which “get in the way” of the free radicals’ ability to damage the body.
When Alcohol Reduces Cancer Risk
Inexplicably, however, in a couple of cases, alcohol actually may reduce cancer risk. When it comes to renal cancer or Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, the effects of alcohol lower the cancer risk by a full 15 percent. The causative agent of this reduced risk is, as yet, unknown, and whether or not the reduced risk for two forms of cancer is worth the higher risk for other cancers is yet to be determined.
The Unseen Genetic Danger
There are also certain people who should never drink alcohol under any circumstances. The people of certain Asian phenotypes, for example, have an overactive enzyme responsible for metabolizing alcohol, which is called alcohol dehydrogenase. The enzyme creates the cancer-causing agents at a faster rate than normal. Worse, these same people have a deficiency in aldehyde dehydrogenase 2, which is the enzyme responsible for breaking down oxidated free radicals. So, not only do these unfortunate people have bodies that are great at making the poisons, but their bodies also cannot get rid of them once they’re there.
Fortunately, the effects of the overactive enzyme and the defective other enzyme cause such discomfort and distress that many of these Asians decide not to drink all on their own. The same applies to people not of Asian descent who have the same enzyme deficiencies. For these people, the alcohol and cancer connection never forms because they become teetotalers themselves. Also, many people who swear off “the sauce” will decrease their risk of certain cancers.
When it comes to alcohol and cancer, no research study or testimonial will take the place of someone talking to a doctor. If you want to know about the risks and how they apply to you, specifically, it’s imperative to see your doctor and to get personalized information.
If you are concerned about the effects of alcohol, but cannot stop drinking, contact Ocean Hills Recovery today.
About the author:
Greg opened his home and heart to alcoholics and addicts in 2003. He is a Certified Addictions Treatment Counselor (CATCI). Starting in 2009 Greg has fostered the growth of Ocean Hills Recovery into one of the most respected and effective treatment centers in the area and has been working with people with addictions since March of 2001. Greg believes in a holistic approach to recovery. His focus is on drug alcohol addiction treatment with a combination of 12 Step work, therapy and counseling, and the rejuvenation of the body through healthful eating and exercise. He has designed his program to foster a family-like atmosphere and believes that people in recovery are just beginning their lives. He encourages the people he works with to learn to enjoy life in sobriety. Greg is married to Nicole; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.