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Booze As Bad As Tabs For Causing Cancer – Not, Actually, What We Want To Know

The latest piece of scaremongering here about the risks of booze to our health. A bottle of wine a week, for women, raises the risk of cancer by the same amount as 10 cigarettes a week. Well, OK, of certain sorts of cancer then. That being useful information to have but it’s not actually what we want to know. Which is, how does some level of booze – or some level of smoking – contribute or not to overall mortality risk. And the answer for booze is that these levels of it protect against, not cause. This we do know and I’d strongly suspect that the same is true for this sort of consumption level for tobacco as well.

The important point being that there are costs and benefits to everything:

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] Drinking a bottle of wine increases women’s cancer risk as much as smoking 10 cigarettes, research suggests. The British study says that for men, drinking a bottle of wine a week increases the absolute lifetime risk of cancer equivalent to smoking five cigarettes weekly. This is due to the risk of cancer in parts of the body such as the bowel, liver and oesophagus, For women, it has a similar impact to 10 cigarettes a week, mostly due to an increased risk of breast cancer caused by alcohol, researchers from the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Bangor University and University of Southampton found. The team estimated that if 1,000 non-smoking men and 1,000 non-smoking women each drank one bottle of wine per week across their lifetime, around 10 men and 14 women would develop cancer as a result. And if 1,000 men and 1,000 women drank three bottles of wine per week throughout their lives, around 19 men and 36 women could develop cancer as a result, the study in BMC Public Health found. [/perfectpullquote]

Well, OK, cancer claims about one third of us in the end, meaning that we’dd expect to see 300 cases in each such population. Something’s going to get us anyway and we’re not all dying of cholera or gas gangrene these days.

But more than that. Up to consumption of around 40 to 50 units a week – so, 8 bottles of wine say – for men the overall effect of booze is protective. There’s some level of mortality associated with being teetotal, drinking something lowers that then the curve travels on, reaching only that teetotal mortality level at that bottle a day plus. This is well known whatever the attempts to deny it among the prodnoses.

Actually, there was that recent attempt to deny this, the trick being used to simply exclude from the calculations all those who don’t drink and thus have that higher teetotal mortality rate.

The cause of this? Roughly, that while booze might cause some cancers it seems to protect against some other causes of death. A likely contributor being that people who relax with a glass or five are relaxed and stress does indeed kill.

So that’s the background, and to what we’d really like to know. OK, does smoking work the same way? Sure, it causes lung cancer and all sorts of things. Or at least can do so, it’s not like ingesting botulism where you will indeed die, it increases the chances does ‘baccy. And we could posit the same as with booze. 10 cigarettes a week might relax enough – say – that while the chance of lung cancer increases, that of many other causes of death decreases. Leaving us with a nice curve, as with booze.

As I say, that’s what we’d like to know. So, does anyone know?

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5 years ago

A bottle of wine is around 10 units so 5 bottles weekly would be the point where the mortality curve exceeds teetotallers if you are otherwise correct.
Is this 40-50 units level “well known”? What is the source?

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