Alcohol, Folic Acid, and Breast Cancer Risk
December 2, 2012 by Robert Wascher
Filed under A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race, Breast Cancer, Cancer, Cancer Incidence, Cancer Prevention, Folate, Folic Acid, Healthy Diet, Nutrition, alcohol, alcohol abuse, breast cancer prevention, breast cancer risk, cancer risk, diet, estrogen, health, lifestyle
A new study shows that both regular alcohol intake and decreased folic acid intake significantly increase breast cancer risk.
ALCOHOL, FOLIC ACID, AND BREAST CANCER RISK
As I discuss in my bestselling book, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race, alcohol is an underappreciated risk factor for multiple types of cancer, including breast cancer. (As little as one alcoholic drink per day has been shown to increase breast cancer risk in women.) The mechanism, or mechanisms, whereby alcohol increases breast cancer risk is not well understood, although some have conjectured that increased levels of estrogen, which accompany regular alcohol intake, may be one such mechanism.
The vitamin folic acid (sometimes referred to as Vitamin B9) has multiple functions, including DNA synthesis and DNA repair. Folate deficiency can occur for a variety of reasons, including frequent or excess alcohol intake. Because of alcohol’s ability to decrease folic acid absorption and increase folic acid excretion, some experts have also proposed that regular alcohol intake may increase breast cancer risk by depleting the body’s stores of folic acid.
Now, a new public health study, published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention, adds important new information about the impact of both alcohol and folic acid on breast cancer risk.
In this Japanese case-control study, 1,754 women with breast cancer and 3,508 age-matched patients without breast cancer were evaluated. Alcohol and folic acid intake was assessed for all of the women who participated in this clinical study; and other known breast cancer risk factors were identified and adjusted for.
As has been shown in multiple other studies, increasing levels of alcohol intake were associated with an increasing risk of breast cancer. Compared with non-drinkers, women who consumed 23 grams or more of alcohol per day experienced a 39 percent increase in the risk of developing breast cancer. (A single standard alcoholic beverage contains about 14 grams of alcohol.)
In this study, an increased dietary intake of folic acid was associated with a decreased risk of developing breast cancer. When compared to women with the lowest intake of folic acid, women who took the highest amount of folic acid in their diet experienced a 21 percent decrease in the risk of developing breast cancer.
In view of the known effects of alcohol on folic acid absorption and excretion, the authors of this study also sought to determine whether or not folic acid intake affected the risk of breast cancer associated with alcohol consumption. Based upon the findings of this study, it does, in fact, appear that folic acid has some potential beneficial impact on breast cancer risk associated with alcohol intake. Among women with very low folic acid intake, the consumption of at least 23 grams of alcohol per day was associated with a whopping 58 percent increase in the risk of breast cancer. At the same time, higher levels of folate intake seemed to significantly reduce any apparent increase in breast cancer risk associated with regular alcohol consumption.
Based upon the findings of this important public health study, the average daily consumption of more than one-and-a-half servings of alcohol per day was associated with a significant increase in breast cancer risk. Additionally, this study found that low dietary levels of folic acid also significantly increased breast cancer risk. Moreover, the combination of daily alcohol consumption and low folic acid intake was associated with more than twice the risk of developing breast cancer than regular alcohol consumption or low folic acid intake alone, while higher levels of folic acid intake appeared to be protective against breast cancer associated with regular alcohol consumption. Therefore, the findings of this study suggest that breast cancer risk can be significantly decreased by decreasing one’s alcohol intake, combined with a diet that contains adequate amounts of folic acid.
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Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author
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