December 11, 2009
Science giveth and science taketh away. Just when I was starting to feel downright giddy about my diet, another study comes along and rains on my parade. I’d be a hypocrite if I only raved about the good news, so here’s my bad news for the week.
Researchers at Kaiser Permanente in California found that drinking alcohol may increase the risk of cancer recurrence in breast cancer survivors. More specifically, women who drank 3 to 4 servings of alcohol a week—roughly 3 to 4 glasses of wine—were 34 percent more likely to have another bout of breast cancer than women who drank little to no alcohol. My personal silver-lining is that the greatest risk was among post-menopausal, overweight women; neither one of which describes me (yet). But I feel as though I’d be tempting fate not to take this news seriously.
To be honest, this finding is less than shocking. Drinking has long been known to increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer because alcohol is estrogenic, meaning it increases the circulating levels of estrogen in the body, and estrogen—as we’ve discussed—is to breast cancer cells what Miracle Gro is to anemic backyard tomatoes. But the gap between knowing this information and its practical application is Grand Canyon-esque.
I’ve known about the link between breast cancer and alcohol for years but, at least before my diagnosis, I chose to look the other way. Like any self-respecting health writer I focused on research that supported my favorite indulgences, such as the stack of studies showing that wine is good for the heart. Since my family history is riddled with heart disease but has (had) nary a wisp of breast cancer, I easily rationalized a few glasses of wine a week. Heck, wine was practically a health food in my book.
That said, I was hardly a heavy drinker. I’d sip a glass of wine while I cooked, which was a couple of nights a week, plus drink a glass or two with friends on weekends. Although my weekly wine tally didn’t seem like much, it easily added up to 3 or 4 glasses a week—the same amount that showed negative consequences in the study above.
I swore off wine after being diagnosed with breast cancer. But, after six months of depriving myself of all of my favorite foods and food rituals (like drinking a little wine while cooking), I realized that living in fear of my favorite foods and beverages is downright depressing. So, in the past month or two, I’ve eased up a bit. Part of that has meant a return to wine, albeit less than I drank before. Although I’m not one to shift dietary course on the winds of a single study, this news does make me rethink my relationship with alcohol. While I don’t want to be a teetotaler, I might need to make wine more of a special-occasion treat. Sigh.