Moderate drinking better than none to avoid bowel cancer

A recent study published in the prestigious International Journal of Cancer[1] shows there is now a clear benefit from drinking moderately- one or two glasses per day limits the risk of bowel cancer.

The study, which reviewed 16 published studies across the United States, Germany, Australia, Canada, Finland, and Sweden, found that the risk of colorectal or bowel cancer was reduced among light to moderate drinkers compared to non-drinkers or occasional drinkers.  However, heavy drinking of alcohol (more than 4 standard drinks a day or 42g per day) increases the risk of getting bowel cancer.

Dr. Creina Stockley, an Adjunct Senior Lecturer at Adelaide University, says “one of the modifiable dietary risk-factors for cancer per se is considered to be alcohol.  Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in Australia as well as worldwide, so this study is of immense importance to Australians with respect to dietary advice.”

“The results of this study strengthen those previously published that showed there are alcohol thresholds for cancers such as colorectal,[2] where an increased risk for colorectal cancer is only apparent above a threshold of approximately 30 g alcohol/day for both men and women, which is reflected in the current NHMRC guidelines.”

“Previously published studies have also shown or suggested that the relationship between alcohol consumption and colorectal cancer risk is J-shaped, such that there is a protective effect for light consumption,[3]” says Dr. Stockley.

This means that moderate drinking is better than not drinking at all, and this is good news for people who are concerned about the risks of this type of cancer.  The authors suggest that the results may be explained by the role of moderate alcohol consumption in reducing inflammation.

ABA spokesperson Kerri Osborne says, “The results of this study, given its sample size and the number of countries involved represent a definitive statement on what has been a grey area up until now.  Australians can take some comfort in the fact that regular, light drinking may offer protection against bowel cancer


 Media enquiries:  Kerri Osborne, Media and Communications Manager: 0418 513 372

[1] McNabb, S.,Harrison, T.A.,Albanes, D.,Berndt, S.I.,Benner, H.,Caan, B.J., et al. (2019). Meta-analysis of 16 (WCRF/AICR 2007, Bagnardi et al. 2013), studies of the association of alcohol with colorectal cancer, International Journal of Cancer.

[2] WCRF/AICR 2007, Bagnardi et al. 2013.

[3] Bagnardi, V., Rota, M., Botteri, E., Tramacere, I., Islami, F., Fedirko, V., Scotti, L., Jenab, M., Turati, F., Pasquali, E., Pelucchi, C., Bellocco, R., Negri, E., Corrao, G., Rehm, J., Boffetta, P., La Vecchia, C. 2013. Light alcohol drinking and cancer: a meta-analysis. Ann Oncol. 24(2): 301-308.


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