• Cancer: Alcohol may be a cause of some types of cancer
  • Diabetics: Diabetics should be careful with alcohol
  • Heart and cardiovascular: Moderate alcohol consumption can benefit the heart and cardiovascular system
  • Liver: Excessive alcohol consumption can damage the liver
  • Stroke: Alcohol consumption can either increase or decrease your risk of having a stroke

Cancer

  • Some studies and organisations conclude that alcohol consumption is causally related to the development of cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colorectum and breast
  • The cancer risk related to alcohol consumption is most pronounced among smokers and at the highest levels of consumption
  • Some studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a lower risk of some types of cancer
Alcohol may be a cause of some types of cancer

Cancer is caused by a complex interplay of factors, including our genetic make-up, what we eat and drink, the lifestyle choices we make, hormones, radiation, stress, lack of social support, the environment in which we live and work, and some factors that are not yet known.

Alcohol consumption has been studied as a possible cause of cancer, especially in recent years, and some organisations have concluded that alcohol consumption can cause certain types of cancer. For example, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the World Health Organisation, has concluded that cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colorectum, and breast are caused by alcohol consumption and that the risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Alcohol may also be linked to other forms of cancer including lung, stomach, pancreatic and endometrial cancer. The United States National Toxicology Program (NTP) found that studies indicate that the risk of cancer related to alcohol consumption is most pronounced among smokers and at the highest levels of consumption.

On the other hand, some studies have suggested that moderate alcohol consumption can be linked to a lower risk of bladder, kidney, ovarian and prostate cancer, as well as non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Still, we do not encourage people to drink alcohol beverages for any health benefits they may provide.

Diabetics

  • Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption is fine for some diabetics – if their doctor agrees Some diabetics should not drink at all as it makes their condition worse
  • Prolonged, heavy alcohol use can cause pancreatitis, which can lead to diabetes
  • If you are a diabetic, you should talk to your doctor to decide what – if any – level of alcohol consumption is safe for you
Diabetics should be careful with alcohol

People with diabetes must be extremely careful with alcohol. Alcohol consumption can cause blood sugar to rise or fall depending on how much you drink and other factors. For some diabetics, excessive consumption can cause blood sugar to drop dangerously low.

The American Diabetes Association suggests that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption (not more than two drinks per day for men and not more than one drink per day for women) is acceptable for some diabetics – providing their doctor agrees. It recommends that diabetics behave cautiously by checking their blood glucose before having an alcohol drink and by eating, preferably carbohydrates, beforehand.

Some diabetics should not drink at all because alcohol can make their condition worse. For example, diabetics with high levels of triglycerides (a certain type of fat in the blood) shouldn't drink alcohol because it can affect the liver's ability to metabolise glucose, which in turn may increase blood triglyceride levels. Drinking alcohol may prevent diabetes medication from working properly which may contribute to dangerously unstable blood sugar levels.

Alcohol and the onset of diabetes

Some studies have reported that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption can have a mild protective effect against the development of type 2 diabetes for both men and women. On the other hand, other studies suggest that, for some people with type 2 diabetes, even moderate alcohol intake may induce low blood sugar levels.

Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is a health condition that's connected with diabetes. Prolonged, heavy alcohol use can contribute to pancreatitis which, in turn, can lead to diabetes.

Heart and cardiovascular

  • For some people, moderate alcohol consumption provides some protection against heart attack, coronary vascular disease and ischaemic stroke
  • Heavy drinking is associated with haemorrhagic stroke, congestive heart failure and atrial fibrillation
  • You shouldn't drink alcohol for its health benefits – for good health, you should look to diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors
Moderate alcohol consumption can benefit the heart and cardiovascular system

For some people, particularly middle-aged and older men and post-menopausal women, moderate alcohol consumption provides some protection against heart attack, coronary vascular disease, ischaemic stroke and death from cardiovascular causes.

Medical research has reported that moderate alcohol consumption may benefit the heart and blood vessels, in part, because it elevates high-density lipoproteins (also known as 'HDL' or 'good cholesterol') in the blood and has other positive effects on the blood and blood vessels.

Robust scientific evidence on the beneficial effects of moderate alcohol consumption on cardiovascular health has accumulated over the past 30 years and has been repeated in studies conducted in at least 25 countries. These studies report that, for some individuals, moderate drinking may be a protective factor against coronary heart disease. The evidence also suggests that the strongest association is seen where drinking is moderate and regular, whether daily or on most days of the week.

Prolonged heavy drinking, however, has been associated with haemorrhagic stroke, congestive heart failure and atrial fibrillation.

Liver

  • The liver breaks down alcohol so it can be eliminated from the body
  • Excessive alcohol consumption can damage the liver
Excessive alcohol consumption can damage the liver

The liver breaks down alcohol so that it can be eliminated from the body. Prolonged, heavy alcohol consumption can damage the liver and this will prevent it from processing alcohol properly.

Liver diseases associated with alcohol include fatty liver (also known as steatosis), alcohol hepatitis and liver cirrhosis. While some of the symptoms of these diseases are minimal, other consequences can be very serious, including severe jaundice, blood clotting problems and, possibly, death. Prolonged, heavy alcohol consumption is also one of the factors associated with hepatocellular carcinoma, a primary cancer of the liver.

Liver disease that's associated with alcohol consumption is normally seen in alcoholics or those who've had a prolonged history of alcohol abuse. The risk of developing liver disease rises as the duration of alcohol use and the amount of alcohol consumed increases.

What is cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis is perhaps the most well-known of the liver diseases associated with alcohol abuse. It's a condition where scar tissue replaces normal liver tissue due to chronic injury – the word 'cirrhosis' means scarring. As the scarring progresses, it alters the liver's normal structure and interferes with the way it functions. Cirrhosis of the liver can have very serious health consequences, including death.

If you have an existing liver disease, such as hepatitis, or you're at risk of liver disease for other reasons, such as obesity or because you are taking certain medications, you should talk to your doctor to see if it's safe for you to drink alcohol at all.

Stroke

  • Heavy or excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of having a stroke by raising blood pressure
  • Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption can reduce the risk of ischaemic stroke by increasing the amount of 'good cholesterol' in the blood
Alcohol consumption can either increase or decrease your risk of having a stroke

Stroke is what happens when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted. This kills cells in the brain, which can result in permanent disability (both physical and mental functioning) and even death.

Stroke can be caused either by a clot obstructing the flow of blood to the brain (ischaemic stroke) or by a blood vessel rupturing and preventing blood flow to the brain (haemorrhagic). The most common type of stroke, ischaemic, accounts for almost 80% of all strokes.

The relationship between alcohol consumption and stroke is complex. Heavy consumption is associated with an increased risk for stroke, while there is a possible decreased risk associated with light-to-moderate consumption.

Increased risk

Heavy or excessive alcohol consumption can raise your blood pressure. Research suggests that this can increase the risk for both types of stroke (ischaemic and haemorrhagic).

Reduced risk

Some research has suggested that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption may have a protective effect against ischaemic stroke by increasing the levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (also known as 'HDL' or 'good cholesterol') and anti-clotting properties in the blood.

If you have any questions about how drinking might affect your risk of stroke, contact your doctor. However, you shouldn't drink alcohol for its health benefits – for good health, you should look to diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors.