Why my knowledge of red wine (and alcohol) has given me a choice

17 February 2017 | Healthy living

Melanie is World Cancer Research Fund’s Press and PR Manager. Her experience in international development and health communication has included leading the successful campaign to ban smoking in cars with children. In her spare time, she likes cooking, gardening and painting.

Our survey, which found that nine in ten people aren’t aware that red wine increases the risk of cancer, appeared in many national newspapers last week, as well as featuring on TV and online.

However, some people weren’t happy to hear that their favourite drink can increase the risk of cancer, and became quite passionate in their views.

The truth isn’t always what we want to hear

And they’re not the only ones! I’m the first to say I wish red wine was good for us – it’s my favourite alcoholic drink, probably due to my French roots. My family weren’t impressed either to hear that red wine isn’t good for them as they live in France and my father has a glass of red wine almost every evening (he’s going to hate me for this).

I hope he will reduce how much he drinks, especially as he’s more at risk the older he gets, and I think it would be wrong for me not to warn my father about these increased risks. Similarly, it would be wrong if World Cancer Research Fund didn’t share the evidence from its research with the public.

We used to think smoking was healthy

Some people aren’t happy that we’re saying alcohol increases cancer risk but there were similar attitudes to smoking when research finally proved how unhealthy that was. New and updated research is always being done – and it can sometimes be confusing.

For example, earlier studies suggested that red wine was good for heart health but, in more up-to-date research, that evidence has become weaker. One thing is clear; all types of alcohol do increase the risk of cancer.

How alcohol causes cancer

Since working here, I have personally become much more aware of the amount of alcohol I drink – and realised that I was often going over the recommended weekly limit without even knowing.

Learning about what alcohol actually does inside our bodies – and how it increases cancer risk – has also motivated me to cut down. For example, I didn’t know that alcohol is metabolised into acetaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen. Alcohol also causes direct damage to cells and alters the cells’ life cycle, which predisposes them to becoming cancerous.

I now drink much less than I used to – and I feel healthier for it.

Look before you cross

The concept of ‘risk’ can be confusing for people and often leads to our advice being ignored. Why should you quit or reduce the amount you drink when many people who drink alcohol never get cancer?

The risk of of drinking is similar to the risk of crossing the road. The more times you cross the road without looking, the higher your risk of being hit by a car. However, because you know about the risk, you look before you cross – which reduces your risk of being hit.

Whether you’re a drinker or you’re carrying some excess weight, the concept is similar for cancer risk – drinking less or losing weight doesn’t mean you’re certain to avoid cancer, but it does mean your chances will be improved.

As we learn more and more about how our lifestyle affects our cancer risk, World Cancer Research Fund will continue to let the public know what they can do to reduce their risk. After all, that’s why we’re here.

Confused about what increases your risk of cancer? Our health information has all the details you need.

Melanie Purnode | 17 February 2017

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