Alcohol & Gastrointestinal Cancer

For many years now we have been taught that adult consumption of alcohol in moderation is an acceptable life practice. We have been told that women can safely drink one alcoholic beverage per day, if not pregnant, while men can drink two per day. Of course, driving a car or handling machinery while under the influence is not acceptable. We were also taught that our alcoholic beverages were highly caloric and that they, in fact, were considered “empty” calories providing little if any nutritional benefit.

Unfortunately, the purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages during the COVID-19 Pandemic has markedly increased as a result of isolation, stress and quarantine.  We have also seen individuals binge drink large quantities of alcohol and even seen individuals become toxic with alcohol poisoning. Moderation and being responsible are always stressed with regard to alcohol consumption.

A study in JAMA Network Open may make us reconsider those ideas. This study looked at the adult South Korean population from 2009- 2017 who did not have a gastrointestinal cancer diagnosed. They followed almost 12,000 adults aged 40 or older with 40% agreeing they drank alcohol. Participants were divided into mild, moderate and heavy drinkers based on the volume of alcohol consumed. They were then followed and compared to the non-drinking portion of the group for the development of GI cancers.

The study found that the frequency of drinking is more of a risk factor for developing GI cancers than the actual volume consumed. In fact, among mild drinkers, those who had an alcoholic drink 3-4 nights a week had a greater chance of developing a GI cancer than those who drank heavily but less frequently.

In life nothing comes without a price. The question I raised and have not received an answer to is “Just how high is this risk?” Is the risk of developing a GI cancer with a cocktail with dinner equivalent to the risk of being killed in an auto accident on a major highway? Is a cocktail with dinner riskier than smoking a pack of cigarettes per day, or sky diving?

Until someone can present the data in a manner that I understand the true risk, it’s difficult to develop a health recommendation. Were these results an outlier unique to the Korean population? When I know based on evidence, I will let you know. Until then “cheers.”

Reducing Triglyceride Levels

The American Heart Association along with Michael Miller, M.D., director for the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland – School of Medicine in Baltimore, just released data and recommendations that diet and lifestyle changes alone should be sufficient to reduce elevated triglyceride levels.

The researchers analyzed more than 500 international studies conducted over the last 30 years for the purpose of updating doctors on the role of triglycerides in the evaluation and management of cardiovascular disease risks. The study confirmed that triglycerides are not directly atherogenic but are instead a marker of cardiovascular disease risk.  High triglycerides are commonly seen in diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease and certain disorders associated with HIV disease. Alcohol and obesity plus inactivity all contribute to elevated levels with TG levels rising markedly in this country since the mid 1970’s in concert with the obesity epidemic we are now seeing.

Triglycerides are checked on a fasting blood test of optimally 12 hours with the upper limit of normal set at 150mg/dl. Newer recommendations will reduce the level to 100 mg/dl.  If your triglycerides are elevated the study made the following suggestions to lower them to appropriate levels:

  1. Limit your sugar intake to less than 5% of calories consumed with no more than 100 calories per day from sugar for women and no more than 150 calories per day from sugar for men.
  2. Limit Fructose from naturally occurring foods and processed foods to less than 50 -100 grams per day
  3. Limit saturated fats to less than 7% of total calories
  4. Limit trans-fat to less than 1% of total calories.

Elevated triglycerides, especially above 500 mg/dl, are associated with an increased risk of pancreatitis. For individuals with TG levels this high we recommend complete abstinence from alcohol.

Exercise is necessary to lose weight and lower triglyceride levels as well. Physical activity of a moderate level such as brisk walking for at least 150 minutes per week (2.5 hours) can lower your triglycerides another 20-30%.

If lifestyle changes including diet modifications and aggressive exercise do not bring you to target levels we suggest the addition of marine based omega 3 products. Also, eat fleshy cold water fish!

A combination of dietary changes, moderate regular exercise and weight reduction is all that is needed to control most problems with triglycerides.  Referrals to registered dietitians can be very helpful in assisting you with the dietary changes required to be successful.