We’ve traditionally thought of men as the big drinkers. They were the ones to suffer the social and health consequences associated with regular, over-indulgence.
Now however, it’s becoming more acceptable for women to go out drinking with friends. This is a result of more women being economically independent and in high flyer and management roles. In the past it was only men who went out drinking but now women are suffering the health consequences too.
BUT it’s worse for women than men, thanks to their different physiology.
Many women don’t know that:
- As a woman’s body has more body fat than that of a man of the same weight, it contains less water. As a result, when women drink, it results in a higher alcohol concentration.
- The concentration of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol, appears to be lower and less active in women than in men. Again resulting in higher blood alcohol concentrations.
- In addition to the two reasons above, weight differentials between women and men exacerbate the problem.
In summary – it takes less alcohol to damage a woman’s body than a man’s.
Firstly – the cancer risks to women from alcohol?
The Million Women Study was conducted in the UK study looking at the incidence of cancer in women drinkers over a period of 7 years. Here’s what they found.
- 25% said they didn’t drink at all
- 98% of those who did drink consumed fewer than 21 drinks per week and consumed an average of 10g of alcohol (1 drink) per day.
- During a follow-up period, 68,775 invasive cancers occurred.
- Increasing alcohol consumption was associated with increased risks of cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx, oesophagus, larynx, rectum, liver, breast and total cancer.
- There was no difference between those who drank wine and those who drank other forms of alcohol.
- The study reported that “For cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract, the alcohol-associated risk was confined to current smokers”, the good news being that there was little or no effect of alcohol on these cancers for women who had never smoked or who had quit.
The researchers concluded that “Low to moderate alcohol consumption in women increases the risk of certain cancers. For every additional drink regularly consumed per day, the increase in incidence up to age 75 years per 1000 for women in developed countries is estimated to be about 11 for breast cancer, 1 for cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx, 1 for cancer of the rectum, and 0.7 each for cancers of the oesophagus, larynx and liver, giving a total excess of about 15 cancers per 1000 women up to age 75.”
But wait, there’s more
Whilst we now know that drinking during pregnancy or just before isn’t advised, but did you know that excessive drinking can disrupt your menstrual cycle and increase your risk of infertility?
Sexually transmitted diseases
With the apparent trend towards binge drinking, inhibitions are removed, increasing the likelihood of unprotected sex with multiple partners, increasing the risks of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease.
Women have a higher risk than men of cirrhosis of the liver as well as other alcohol-related liver diseases.
Excessive drinking increases the likelihood of women suffering memory loss and brain shrinkage.
Studies have shown that excessive drinking puts women at increased risk of heart muscle damage.
Binge drinking has been shown to be a risk factor for sexual assault. This is especially true for younger women.
Please take heed of this information and consider the risk to yourself and your loved ones. I enjoy a glass of red occasionally, but this sobering information might make us all consider just how much we consume.
Have the conversation with your daughters too – it’s not about scaring people, but rather making informed choices.