Are Menopause Symptoms in Women, Alcohol Use and Breast Cancer Risk Related?

by Laura Ramirez on December 3, 2011

A question that I am often asked in the seminars I lead is, “Are menopause symptoms in women, alcohol use and breast cancer risk related?” Women have to give up a lot of habits during menopause in order to preserve long term health and many are hoping to hold on to that nightly glass of wine if possible. After all, we’ve been told that 1-2 glasses of wine per night (especially red wine) benefits cardiovascular health, right? So why is it suddenly associated with breast cancer risk?

New research from the Nurses Health Study may finally tell us what is what. Obviously, when we’re told that something is healthy for one aspect of our health but unhealthy for another, there may be some distinctions that we need to be aware of. After all, it’s not like smoking which has never been shown to have any health benefits. Maybe there is something more that we need to know about the women who drink in moderation and get breast cancer versus those who don’t. When a substance has both benefits and detriments for some, usually we need more information.

This is what an article on medicalnewstoday.com has to say about alcohol, breast cancer risk and menopause symptoms in women:

The International Scientific Forum of Alcohol Research comments ‘A large percentage of observational prospective studies have shown that women who consume alcohol show an increase in their risk of developing breast cancer. In general, the relation seems to be stronger for women who drink in binges, are also taking post-menopausal hormonal therapy, and/or have low intakes of dietary folate. Most studies have shown that heavier drinkers are at the greatest risk’.

In this study, the risk of breast cancer was found to be modestly increased among consumers of alcohol, even those whose total alcohol consumption was reported to be in the range of 3 to 6 drinks/week. Similar small increases in the risk of breast cancer have been found from alcohol consumption in the majority of previous studies observational studies. A strength of this study was the very large number of subjects, permitting the investigators to attempt to determine if both the amount of alcohol and the frequency of consumption were important in this association; strong effects were not found for either. When adjusting for the cumulative lifetime consumption, there was no effect of the frequency of consumption (1-2, 3-4, or 5-7 days per week).

A weakness in the paper, is a failure to report on the effects of diet and folate intake on the association between alcohol and breast cancer risk; the same investigators have previously shown that folate is a potential moderator of the effects of alcohol on breast cancer risk….

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Menopause symptoms in women, alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk are related, but know the facts so you can protect yourself and still enjoy an occasional glass of wine.

Ah, so there may be a little secret here that can make the difference between whether or not you can continue to enjoy your nightly glass of wine or drink occasionally when you entertain or go out with friends: folate. Folate is a B vitamin (that is very important to a healthy pregnancy … another time when hormones go awry) and can be found in a folate supplement or by eating a variety of dark green vegetables.

Of course the other important action to take is to avoid binge drinking. Binge drinking is unhealthy for any reason even if it only occurs sporadically. Binge drinkers literally flood themselves with alcohol in order to self-medicate their sense of stress and overwhelm. To counteract such a tendency, take up a practice that will help you cope with stress on a daily basis such as yoga or meditation. Since yoga is a form of moving meditation, starting up a yoga practice can really help.

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