More than 6 drinks a week lead to major health risks, says new report, especially for women

According to proposed new guidelines released on Monday, drinking more than six drinks a week carries a high risk of health problems, including cancer.

And for women who drink three or more drinks a week, the risk of health problems, including breast cancer and liver damage, increases more than men, research shows. These results explain why the Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), a national advisory body, recommends that people drink less per week.

“The key message of this project is that when it comes to alcohol, less is more. Everyone should try to reduce their alcohol consumption,” said Catherine Paradis, Senior Research and Policy Analyst at CCSA and Co-Chair of Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines.

It’s no secret that alcohol is bad for you, experts say. It has been classified as a group 1 carcinogen (carcinogenic to humans) for decades by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

But not everyone is aware that drinking alcohol has been linked to numerous health risks, including at least seven types of cancer, Paradis said.

That’s why the guidelines – which the public can weigh in on – talk about the health risks and how this increases with the number of drinks. With alcohol consumption on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, some health officials say this new report and drinking guidelines can further help highlight health risks.

“It’s knocking down the hammer to say, ‘look, watch what you’re doing.’ And hopefully people will pay attention,” said Dr. Fawaad ​​Iqbal, a radiation oncologist at the Durham Regional Cancer Center in Oshawa, Ont., who was not involved in the report.

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“People in Canada have a right to know”

But experts say the risks associated with drinking alcohol need to be clarified beyond these recommendations. Iqbal and those who worked on the CCSA guidelines want to see cancer warnings and standard drink counts listed on alcohol bottles or cans.

“Whether consumers choose to use this information or not is up to them. But there’s a lot of evidence that says if you say in the foreground, ‘it harms your health and you could get cancer at Because of that, “people will say change their decision-making about how much alcohol they drink,” Iqbal said.

Since the last alcohol use guidelines were released in 2011, the evidence on health problems and alcohol use has changed significantly, Paradis says. That’s why four committees, including three groups of scientific experts, have been formed to review the evidence needed to update the guidelines.

Those involved reviewed several dozen studies on alcohol and health conditions under the new guidelines. Multiple data sources, including 2017 to 2019 death and disability data from Statistics Canada, were used to perform the risk calculations. They also used mathematical modeling, according to the report.

Although all levels of alcohol consumption carry some risk, their report shows a range of risks depending on how many glasses of wine or bottles of beer a person drinks each week.

For example, they found that health risks are negligible or low with two or fewer glasses of wine per week. If the number of drinks increases between three and six standard drinks per week, the risk of health problems is moderate.

But drinking more than six glasses of wine or cider a week makes the risk of health problems “increasingly higher”.

“We know it’s going to be surprising and some people might even be upset about it. But we didn’t go into this project to win a popularity contest. We’re scientists,” Paradis said.

“Our perspective throughout this project is that people in Canada have a right to know.

Drinking increases the risk of breast cancer

The new findings are very different from the 2011 guidelines created by CCSA. These suggested no more than 10 standard drinks per week for women and 15 standard drinks per week for men.

Paradis says one of the reasons the 2011 recommendations were higher was the belief that alcohol has good health benefits for cardiovascular disease. But now new research shows that’s probably not the case anymore, she said.

“In fact, in our own study, we found that alcohol was neither good nor bad at low levels for protection against certain cardiovascular diseases. At higher levels, it really has a detrimental impact,” said she declared.

Alcohol consumption in Canada causes nearly 7,000 cancer deaths each year in Canada, according to the report.

Beer is pictured on the shelves of a liquor store in Vancouver in a July 12, 2019 file photo. New guidelines say drinking more than six glasses of wine or cider per week makes the risk of health problems “increasingly high”. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

And specifically for women, drinking three or more drinks a week comes with a greater risk of health problems compared to men, according to the report’s data. They include several reasons, including differences in metabolism.

Breast cancer risk increased with more alcohol, Paradis said, adding that one in 35 women will die because of breast cancer in Canada.

“If you take six drinks a week, you increase your chances of being that woman by 10 percent,” she said, adding that the risk starts at one or two standard drinks a week.

Allison Garber, a Halifax communications company owner and sobriety advocate, said she wished she had known about the increased risk of cancer sooner. Both her mother and grandmother had breast cancer, and she lost her mother to cancer.

“I think this report is going to save a lot of lives,” she said, adding that it’s good to see an increased focus on education.

“I believe it’s an individual choice whether people drink alcohol or not, but I think it’s fundamentally important that it’s an informed choice.”

Label health risks

Some Canadians have reported an increase in heavy drinking in recent years.

A Statistics Canada survey published in 2021 shows that many Canadians do not have just one drink. Almost one in five people who responded to the survey said they had five or more drinks – the equivalent of a bottle of wine – on the days they said they had drunk alcohol in the previous month .

The agency says this is higher than before the COVID-19 hit.

According to data from the Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction report, drinking three or more drinks per week is associated with a greater risk of health problems in women than in men. (Justine Bouln/CBC)

The CCSA report was launched before the pandemic, but Paradis says adults need to know more about the alcohol they buy and how it may affect their health.

Paradis and the other authors of the report, as well as Iqbal, say bottles of wine and other liquor should clearly describe health warnings and nutritional information. She adds that people need to be able to count their drinks to know how much alcohol they are consuming, but cannot do so unless it is explicitly stated on a label.

“The main message we want to get across with this is that, overall, alcohol is not good for your health and when it comes to alcohol, drinking less is better,” said Heaven.

The guidelines will likely become official guidelines this fall.

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