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- Cancer is a result of DNA damage in the body, and it can be prompted by uncontrollable genetic factors.
- But there are some things we can do to reduce the risk of developing cancer.
- There is a lot of compelling evidence that drinking alcohol can cause cancer. The same goes for sugary drinks.
- Slurping piping-hot beverages is also a bad thing to do to your esophagus and could increase some people’s cancer risk a bit. Cancer claims about coffee are more suspect.
Some cancers are unavoidable and determined by genetics. But the truth is there are some behaviors we can control that influence our cancer risk. Breathing dirty air (whether from cigarette smoke or air pollution), eating (or not eating) certain foods, and being around certain products and chemicals every day can each contribute to how, when, and if people get cancer.
Even your choices about what you drink every day can have some influence on your cancer risk.
Here are some of the drinks that science suggests are leading to more cancer cases, and even deaths.
We have a lot of evidence that drinking alcohol contributes to more cancer cases.
- Stefan Wermuth/Reuters
Call it liquor, alcohol, or booze, but this substance’s scientific name is ethyl alcohol. It’s a chemical typically made from fermenting sugars (such as those from grapes) or starches (such as potatoes or rice) with yeast.
Part of the reason alcohol is dangerous is that it irritates tissues, making it easier for carcinogens (cancer-causing compounds) to sneak in and cause DNA damage in the body.
Scientists have shown time and time again that drinking alcohol can contribute to several different kinds of cancer in humans. The dose is important, too – the more you drink, the greater your risk of developing different kinds of cancers, including head, neck, throat, liver, breast, and colon.
A worldwide study of drinkers in 195 countries published in 2018 found that no matter where people live, heavier drinkers are more likely to develop cancer, and they’re also more likely to die from cancer and many other causes.
Plenty of people live to a ripe old age while drinking alcohol regularly. But that doesn’t mean the behavior is risk-free.
In England, 92-year-old Queen Elizabeth II reportedly enjoys wine with her lunch and sips champagne before bed on a regular basis. Across the Atlantic in Pennsylvania, 101-year-old Andrew Slavonic says downing a can of Coors Light every afternoon has been his golden ticket to living past 100.
There is some evidence that a moderate amount of booze (say, one drink per day) can help protect against some health conditions, notably heart disease and diabetes. But there are underlying genetic differences that make some people more likely to develop deadly diseases.
In France, where people drink an average of 2.7 glasses of alcohol a day, alcohol kills roughly 49,000 people every year. Health officials in the wine-loving country are now encouraging French people to drink less.
Alcohol is alcohol, and it’s not great for our bodies in big doses, whether it’s a big glass of Côtes du Rhône, a snifter filled with cognac, or a couple bottles of Corona.
Sugar-filled drinks can also be dangerous. Sugar is linked to more cancer cases, and there’s even some evidence it can help tumors grow faster and more aggressively.
A recent 34-year study of more than 118,000 men and women across the US suggested that people who drink more sugar-sweetened beverages are more likely to die from all sorts of things, including breast and colon cancers.
It’s an especially bad idea to drink sugar because liquid sweets are absorbed and digested very quickly in the body.
When we drink sugar from beverages such as juice or soda, fructose rushes into the liver, unabated by key nutrients, such as fiber, that slow down digestion and help us feel full and satiated.
“You just end up consuming more calories per day, and it leads to weight gain over time,” Vasanti Malik, a research scientist from the Department of Nutrition in the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health recently told Business Insider.
That weight gain can prompt obesity-related cancers, including breast and colon cancers.
It’s especially troubling when you consider that cancer also loves to use sugar as fuel. More research on this phenomenon in humans is still needed, but lab studies in mice and yeast both suggest that sugar can essentially feed cancerous tumors, stimulating them to grow quickly and aggressively.
Hot beverages that are served at near-boiling temperatures can also up a person’s risk of developing cancer in the tube that moves food and drinks from our mouths to our stomachs.
Scientists have discovered that people who drink super-steamy mate, which is traditionally served searing hot in chillier areas of Argentina, have higher rates of esophageal cancer. Drinking alcohol and smoking can compound that risk.
The risks aren’t unique to South America.
In one recent study, people in northeastern Iran who drink two cups of very hot tea every day likewise nearly doubled their risk of developing esophageal cancer when compared with Iranians who waited for their brew to chill.
Fortunately, scientists have discovered the esophageal-cancer risk from hot beverages is relatively small. In the Iranian study, it amounted to about 17 extra cases per 100,000 people. It is also fairly easy to avoid drinking things that are too hot to handle.
- Former President Obama is a tea drinker.
- Eric Thayer/Getty Images
Be kind to your tongue and to your esophagus, and simply wait a few minutes before you enjoy your cup of tea, coffee, or mate.
People have also been increasingly worried about the cancer risks of coffee. But the cancer connection here is tenuous at best.
- Mohammad Khursheed/Reuters
Coffee roasting produces a chemical compound called acrylamide.
Acrylamide is dangerous when it’s consumed in large doses (it’s one of the toxic chemicals that smokers inhale), but there’s no evidence that the tiny dose found in coffee is harmful for our bodies.
Though a California judged ruled in 2018 that coffee sellers in that state must include labels warning customers about the possible cancer risks from acrylamide in coffee, health experts aren’t convinced the rule is based on the best science.
The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) is challenging the law, arguing there’s not enough evidence that coffee causes cancer. The US Food and Drug Administration agrees and said a cancer warning on coffee is more likely to confuse and mislead consumers than help them out.
What’s more, both the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the American Cancer Society say scientific research suggests coffee is more likely a cancer fighter because it can reduce people’s risk of developing certain cancers in the breast, liver, and colon.
Coffee also has a lot of other health benefits attached to it, especially when it comes to our aging hearts.
It’s the one drink on this list that’s arguably safe to continue drinking as much as you like.
A team of German researchers who recently studied how caffeine influences the way cells in blood vessels perform suggests that about four cups of coffee a day might just be the perfect amount to maintain a healthy, youthful heart.
It’s clear from the research to date that sugar and alcohol are by far more dangerous.
Brew on, my caffeine-loving friends.
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