The latest findings when it comes to how much alcohol affects your overall health really pack a punch.
A study recently published in the journal BMC Public Health shows that drinking one bottle of wine per week is equivalent to smoking five cigarettes for men and 10 cigarettes for women in the same period ― at least as far as cancer risk is concerned.
Researchers from the United Kingdom found that, in a group of nonsmokers, drinking one weekly bottle of wine is associated with a 1 percent increase in lifetime cancer risk for men and a 1.4 percent increase for women, Live Science reported. The study authors used available U.K. population and health data as well as data on tobacco-related cancers and alcohol-related cancers to arrive at their results.
The goal of the study was to help people better understand alcohol as a risk factor for developing cancer by quantifying it. Many people still aren’t aware of alcohol’s link to the disease, according to the researchers.
“Our estimation of a cigarette equivalent for alcohol provides a useful measure for communicating possible cancer risks that exploits successful historical messaging on smoking,” lead study author Theresa Hydes said in a statement. “We hope that by using cigarettes as the comparator we could communicate this message more effectively to help individuals make more informed lifestyle choices.”
While the comparison seems pretty effective, there are some caveats about this research that everyone should keep in mind. The study did not take into account the many other health risks associated with smoking, like heart disease and respiratory disease, said Francisco Esteva, the head of breast medical oncology at New York University’s Langone Perlmutter Cancer Center.
“This study attempts to quantify the risk of cancer associated with moderate alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking,” said Esteva, who was not affiliated with the study.
“Although it is an interesting statistical analysis, the study didn’t take into account the effects of alcohol and cigarette smoking on cardiovascular health and other organs,” he told HuffPost. “Comparing the cancer risks associated with a specific number of cigarettes to a bottle of wine is quite simplistic and may send the wrong message.”
Alexander Kutikov, a professor and the chief of urologic oncology at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, who also was not affiliated with the study, agreed that there are more factors at play here and that this may be a very simple comparison. Additionally, he noted that studies like this one perpetuate a certain level of misplaced responsibility on the individual who is diagnosed with cancer.
“Importantly, at the extreme of this narrative lies the concept of blame,” he told HuffPost, adding that patients who are diagnosed with cancer and engaged in behavioral risk factors ― like drinking ― are often blamed for developing the disease.
“This is quite a common pitfall not only in popular culture but also in medicine. I personally believe it needs to be avoided,” Kutikov said. “Cancer is an extremely complex disease, and some patients may receive this challenging diagnosis despite doing everything right, while many others can lead what one would view as careless lives and never develop malignancy.”
The study authors stated that they did not examine the many other possible effects involved with drinking and smoking, such as heart and liver disease. Instead, they used the results as a way to demonstrate that, while drinking is not associated with cancer as frequently as smoking, drinking alcohol and cancer do have a correlation.
It’s also worth noting that regular smokers likely smoke more than five to 10 cigarettes per week, according to some figures. But any cigarettes, even in very small numbers, can lead to a higher risk of earlier death or disease, including cancer. Finally, the study uses only available data on the subject; research wasn’t conducted on participants for this study.
In other words, there are a few other things to consider before you stop drinking wine with dinner. But it is certainly interesting ― and perhaps effective ― to see this information laid out in this way.
Especially because one thing is clear among researchers: Alcohol use has been linked to developing cancer, among other issues. It’s not the only reason someone might develop the disease, as Kutikov pointed out, but it could be a factor. So, as with any substance, it’s best to at least evaluate how you use it.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.