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American Cancer Society Changes Stance of Alcohol Consumption and Health

In an update to their dietary and exercise guidelines, the American Cancer Society states that alcohol use should be avoided. Learn more about the cancer risks involved with alcohol use.

There continue to be many mixed messages regarding the risks or benefits of alcohol use, but the American Cancer Society (ACS) recently released a cautionary statement: “It is best not to drink alcohol.” The organization’s new stance is based on mounting evidence that points toward alcohol as a large contributor to cancer risks.

In their updated Diet and Physical Activity Guideline, the ACS examines the relationship between alcohol use and cancer. It also provides in-depth recommendations for exercise, food intake and other health-related factors. This is the first update to the guideline in eight years.

Table of Contents

Previous Stance in 2012

Before the most recent update, the ACS recommended that people who drink alcohol should make sure to limit consumption. The organization stated that, as a general rule, women should have no more than one drink per day and men should have no more than two. There have also been changes to previous dietary and exercise recommendations.

What Changed? 

A press release from the ACS breaks down the differences between the updated guidelines and those from 2012. These guidelines include new recommendations for physical activity, diet and alcohol intake — all of which are related to cancer risks.

1. Physical Activity

The organization has increased its recommendation for physical activity. Previously, the guidelines stated adults should exercise at a moderate level for 150 minutes per week or at a vigorous level for 75 minutes per week. 

The updated guidelines indicate that adults should exercise for 150 to 300 minutes at a moderate level, or 75 to 150 minutes at a vigorous level. The ARS also states that it’s best to reach the upper level of these limits.

2. Diet

The guidelines previously stated that adults should eat a healthy diet with plenty of plant foods, like fruits and vegetables and should limit consumption of processed or red meat, eating 2.5 cups of fruits and vegetables daily and choosing whole grains instead of refined grains.

Now, the guidelines recommend following a healthy eating pattern at all ages. It describes this pattern as eating foods that help promote a healthy body weight and are high in nutrients. It also recommends eating a variety of vegetables, whole fruits and whole grains. It specifically states that red or processed meats, sweetened beverages, highly processed foods and refined grains should be limited or removed from eating patterns.

3. Alcohol Intake

While the ACS still recommends daily limits for alcohol intake — one drink for women and two drinks for men — the organization now states that it’s best to avoid alcohol entirely. This change may represent a potential shift in how the medical community views alcohol use as a whole. Instead of attempting to determine an amount that individuals can “safely” drink, the ACS has taken the stance that alcohol use is not optimal for health, particularly in regard to cancer risks.

How Alcohol Consumption Affects Cancer Risks

According to the updated guidelines, which compile scientific data from a variety of research organizations and studies, alcohol is the third largest modifiable factor in cancer risks. The primary two factors are body weight and tobacco use. 

Alcohol use is linked to at least seven types of cancer, including colon, liver, esophageal and stomach cancer. Alcohol is believed to have caused 4% of all cancer deaths in 2014, with 40.9% of oral cavity, 23.2% of larynx, 21.6% of liver and 21% of esophageal cancer cases caused by alcohol use.

The ethanol found in alcohol is carcinogenic. Carcinogens damage DNA and proteins within the body, reducing the ability to repair proteins, absorb nutrients and more. These changes can cause cells to begin growing abnormally instead of dying as they should, which can lead to cancer.

If you or a loved one would like to quit drinking and need support to do so, The Recovery Village can help. Contact us today to learn more about treatment plans and programs that can help you lead a life free from alcohol use and addiction.

Rock, Cheryl; et al. “American Cancer Society guideline for diet and physical activity for cancer prevention.” CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, June 9, 2020. Accessed June 15, 2020.

American Cancer Society. “American Cancer Society Updates Diet & Physical Activity Guideline for Cancer Prevention.” June 9, 2020. Accessed June 15, 2020.

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.
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