Drinking less alcohol may be linked to a lower risk of cancer, a new study suggests.
In the study, researchers found that people who drank some alcohol had a lower risk of cancer and death from any cause during a nine-year period than those who drank more or none.
In particular, people who had fewer than seven drinks a week had the lowest risk of cancer and death, compared with those who had seven or more drinks a week, according to the study, published today (June 19) in the journal PLOS Medicine. And with each additional drink a week, the risk of cancer and death from any cause increased, the scientists reported.
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“That tends to give very different messages about what the role of alcohol and health is,” Kunzmann told Live Science. Most existing evidence suggests that light-to-moderate drinkers had the lowest risk of dying from various causes during the study period, yet “never drinkers” had the lowest risk of developing cancer, he said.
“What our study does is combine the two outcomes together and [finds] that lighter drinking is associated with the lowest risk of cancer or death,” Kunzmann said. And those who had no drinks or more than one drink a day were more at risk for death or cancers, most commonly esophageal and liver cancer and cancers of the head or neck regions, Kunzmann said.
In the study, the team analyzed data about lifetime alcohol use from questionnaires that were given to the nearly 100,000 participants in the United States between 1998 and 2000.
“The study results suggest that minimizing alcohol intake may help individuals who already drink to lower their risk of developing certain types of cancer, such as breast, colorectal and liver cancer,” Kunzmann said in a statement.
In general, most people agree that “if you drink alcohol, drinking less reduces your risk” of health problems, including cancer,” said Dr. Timothy Naimi, an alcohol epidemiologist at Boston Medical Center who was not involved with the study. But there could be other factors that “may make light drinkers ‘appear’ to be better off statistically, because they are socially advantaged,” he told Live Science.
The researchers said that they hope their study sparks conversation about reducing the recommended alcohol intake in countries’ guidelines. The U.K. guidelines, for example, recommend that both men and women should have fewer than six drinks a week (less than one drink a day), whereas the U.S. guidelines state that men shouldn’t have more than two drinks a day and women no more than one, according to Kunzmann.
Originally published on Live Science.