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Acetaldehyde From Alcohol May Raise Cancer Risk

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

According to a new study, heavy alcohol use raises cancer risk from acetaldehyde exposure. The combination of environmental exposure to acetaldehyde and alcohol puts heavy drinkers especially at risk for cancer.

The study published in the journal Addiction, shows that drinking alcohol heavily exposes people to more acetaldehyde than deemed safe, and increasing cancer risk from multiple sources of acetaldehyde exposure.

The authors say,” Alcohol consumption has thus been identified as a direct source of acetaldehyde exposure, which in conjunction with other sources (food flavourings, tobacco) results in a magnitude of risk requiring intervention. An initial public health measure could be to reduce the acetaldehyde content in alcoholic beverages as low as technologically possible, and to restrict its use as a food flavour additive.”

The researchers say the risk of acetaldehyde than can cause cancer from heavy alcohol use alone is risky. When combined with other environmental sources, the toxic effect that can lead to cancer increases. Acetaldehyde is manufactured by the live when alcohol is metabolized. The assessment from the current study showed the risk of cancer from acetaldehyde from heavy alcohol use alone is 7.6/10,000 over a lifetime. Those statistics are far higher than cancer risk from acetaldehyde exposure from food and the environment.

Dr. Jürgen Rehm, the lead scientist of the Toronto group who conducted the analysis says, The problem with acetaldehyde has been that although it has been recognized as toxic by Health Canada some years ago, most risk assessments to date were based on one source of exposure only. This has led to a negligence of the overall risk.”

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Acetaldehyde is found in the air, in food, and in tobacco smoke, and is classified as potentially cancer producing by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization.

The risk of cancer from higher dietary intake of acetaldehyde in alcoholic beverages may be even greater. The researchers say…”we have found in certain unrecorded alcohol beverages in Guatemala and Russia, for which we have demonstrated possible exposure scenarios, with risks in the range of 1 in 1000”.

Acetaldehyde is an organic chemical, associated with hangovers, and is naturally present in coffee and fruit. Combustion of fuel adds acetaldehyde to the air, as does degradation of plastics used in manufacturing. The result of multiple sources of acetaldehyde exposure can increase the risk of cancer especially of the digestive tract, and the current study suggests that heavy alcohol use greatly contributes to that risk.

The study showing that cancer risk may greatly increase from heavy alcohol use, combined with other exposure was conducted by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto and the Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Laboratory Karlsruhe (CVUA) in Germany.

The researchers suggest a re-examination of acetaldehyde and cancer risk in humans, taking into account all sources of exposure. In addition, measures should be taken to reduce the amount of acetaldehyde in alcoholic beverages, to the lowest possible level to reduce risk of cancer in humans from acetaldehyde.

Also consider the following about alcohol and cancer risk

Reference: Wiley
This page is updated on April 18, 2013.