Alcohol treatment may prevent carcinogenesis

Individuals who drink heavily may find many benefits from either abstaining or dramatically reducing their alcohol consumption. Through a non 12 step approach to recovery, heavy drinkers can learn self-empowering tools to use in their daily life to assist them in coping with alcohol cravings, which in turn, may dramatically reduce their risk for developing various types of cancer in the future.

Previous studies show that chronic alcohol consumption is a risk factor for cancer of the mouth, pharynx, hypopharynx, larynx, and esophagus, and it is also a major factor in liver carcinogenesis (the creation of cancer). Studies also show that alcohol increases the risk for breast cancer and colorectal cancer. Alcohol treatment for heavy drinkers may prevent carcinogenesis. However, the mechanisms by which alcohol consumption causes cancer are not completely understood. Poschl and Seitz of the Heidelberg Laboratory of Alcohol Research in Germany reviewed existing research on alcohol and cancer (2004).

Animal studies suggest that ethanol (alcohol) itself is not a carcinogen; rather it is a co-carcinogen and tumor promoter. Acetaldehyde is produced in the gastrointestinal tract by the metabolism of alcohol, and acetaldehyde is carcinogenic and mutagenic. Acetaldehyde can damage DNA and proteins. Acetaldehyde may also be produced by bacteria in the mouth, and cigarette smoking leads to an increase in acetaldehyde production. Further, some cigarettes and alcoholic beverages contain acetaldehyde.

Alcohol may also promote carcinogenesis through the induction of cytochrome P-4502E1 in the liver; this leads to more free radicals. Chronic alcohol consumption may also cause cancer through changes in metabolism, alterations in cell cycle duration, nutritional deficiencies, and alterations of the immune system that result in increased vulnerability to viral infections like hepatitis. Alcohol may also directly damage tissue; for instance, alcohol may damage liver tissue, and this could lead to liver cancer. Finally, an alcohol-related increase in estrogen may be related to the increased risk of breast cancer. These various mechanisms may lead to carcinogenesis modulated by alcohol consumption.

The researchers identify four major risk factors for alcohol-related carcinogenesis:

1. For the upper aerodigestive tract: smoking, poor oral hygiene and poor dental status, highly concentrated alcoholic beverages, additional supplementation of vitamin A and ß-carotene, ADH1C*1,1 homozygocity, ALDH 2*2,2-mutation, precancerous conditions such as Barret’s esophagus and gastro-esophageal reflux.

2. For the liver: cirrhosis, hepatitis B- and C infection, haemochromatosis, exposure to aflatoxins and vinylchloride

3. For the colorectum: chronic inflammatory bowel disease, polyps, deficiency of folate, ADH1C*1 homozygocity, ALDH2*2 mutation.

4. For the breast: high estradiol concentrations (especially in midcycle), ADH1C*1 genotype? Family history?

“From these data,” the authors report, “one can conclude that individuals who already have the above-mentioned types of cancer or who have an increased risk of developing those cancers due to other risk factors should avoid chronic alcohol ingestion and should limit their alcohol intake to not more than twice weekly and in moderate dosage (20–30 g for men and 10–20 g for women). In this context, alcohol should be consumed with meals and highly concentrated alcoholic beverages should be avoided.”

Poschl G, Seitz HK. Alcohol and cancer. Alcohol and Alcoholism. 2004; 39(3): 155-165.