Myth 4: Alcohol changes the estrogen in your body.
This myth is almost accurate, but not quite.
“There appears to be a concerning link between breast cancer and alcohol,” says Michelle MacDonald, clinical dietitian supervisor at National Jewish Health in Denver.
The Nurses Health Study, a large epidemiological study, found that two drinks a day elevated the chance of developing breast cancer significantly, MacDonald says. The findings noted that while the current average risk in the U.S. is that 12 out of 100 women develop cancer in their lifetimes, the increased risk attributed to alcohol meant that “14 to 15 out of 100 women may develop the disease. It’s a little worrisome,” she says.
But it’s not because alcohol consumption changes the estrogen itself. Rather, it may be increasing the circulating levels of estrogen in the body, Leman says. Higher levels of estrogen in the body are a concern for women, especially those with estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer, which is the most common form.
So yes, you should limit your intake of alcohol if you have breast cancer or are at risk of developing it. Studies show a modest but significant association between alcohol consumption and the increased risk of breast cancer recurrence, and in some studies, this association is stronger in postmenopausal women.
It also appears there’s a dose-response situation here. “The degree of increased risk is directly related to the amount of alcohol consumed, starting with a small increase in breast cancer even with one drink every other day,” MacDonald says. And, it doesn’t matter whether you’re drinking beer, wine or hard liquor – it’s the ethanol in the beverage that appears to be the issue.
So how much can you drink? “What I always hear researchers say at conferences and in the research is that there’s no safe lower limit,” Leman says, meaning that any amount of alcohol consumption could elevate your risk.
In addition, alcohol is a “concentrated form of calories, so that can contribute to weight gain and weight gain, and excess weight is a risk factor” for developing breast cancer or experiencing a recurrence, she adds.
For her own risk tolerance, Leman says she quit drinking when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “I love, love red wine. But I hate breast cancer more.”