Taking 31 days off alcohol for Dry January is not a decision to make lightly, but it could be the best decision you ever made. Although it may seem that the news headlines are full of conflicting advice of whether alcohol can help or harm our health, scientific researchers are beginning to agree that regular alcohol consumption can increase the risk of seven different types of cancer. Here are just three of the more recent studies, and the numbers involved in the research suggest that dry January may be worth following.
In August 2015 a study was reported, which aimed to examine the risk of cancer across all levels of alcohol consumption for both men and women separately, focusing on light to moderate drinking and people who had never smoked. The study followed around 88,000 women and nearly 48,000 men from 1980 until a follow up in 2010. This was a huge study which found that women were more at risk at developing cancer, than men, from even 1 drink a day. Breast cancer was the most common form developed. Alcohol consumption above the defined moderate levels was associated with a higher risk of cancer for men, although the risks for men who consumed alcohol at light to moderate levels remained similar among those who had never smoked, compared to those who smoked.
Men were at risk of developing oesophageal and oral cancer, cancer of the larynx and pharynx, cancer of the liver and colorectal cancer. Light to moderate consumption of alcohol was defined as up to one alcoholic drink daily for women (4 oz wine) and up to two drinks a day for men (two 12 oz beers).
A Spanish study, published in October 2015, confirmed the link between alcohol and breast cancer. Over 300,000 women took part in an European study. The researchers concluded that with each added daily glass of wine or beer, the risk of developing breast cancer could quadruple. The study lasted for 11 years.
A study commissioned by Alcohol Concern and the University of Sussex, suggests that participating in Dry January, could have long-term benefits for people who sign up. 2017 is the sixth time that Alcohol Concern have run the campaign, which takes advantage of the New Year fitness drive to encourage people to give up drinking alcohol for a month. The study was published in December 2015, in Health Psychology, a peer-reviewed journal.
The study involved 857 UK adults who had chosen to take part in the challenge, which represents approximately a quarter of the adults who signed up and took part.. Two thirds of the participants in the study, managed to give up drinking for one month. When compared with the people who failed to abstain from alcohol, those who had been successful tended to have lower dependence, drink less and were able to refuse alcohol from the start of the study. However both those who could abstain for the whole of the month and those who did not manage to complete the challenge, did exhibit reduced consumption and increased their ability to abstain for up to six months after the challenge. This suggested that for this group, their taking part in the challenge benefitted them.
Living a healthy lifestyle, including a healthy diet, physical exercise and reducing cigarette and alcohol consumption are the most established ways of reducing the risk of developing cancer.
EL Giovannucci, et al., Light to moderate intake of alcohol, drinking patterns and risk of cancer: results from two prospective US cohort studies, August 2015, the bmj
Romieu, I, et al., Alcohol intake and breast cancer in the European prospective investigation into cancer and nutrition, International Journal of Cancer, 2015; 137 (8)
De Visser RO, Robinson E, Bond R. Voluntary Temporary Abstinence From Alcohol During "Dry January" and Subsequent Alcohol Use. Health Psychology. December 2015
If you enjoyed this article, you might be interested in these alcohol education products, available from AnatomyStuff.
Laminated educational poster on the dangers of alcohol.
These alcohol education glasses simulate the visual distortion and lack of control caused by excessive drinking.
Alcohol education visual guide and display that explains how many units of alcohol are contained within popular alcoholic drinks in the UK.