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Mechanism of alcohol in the cancer development

Mechanism of alcohol in the cancer development

 Researchers have hypothesized multiple ways that alcohol may increase the risk of certain cancers:

  • When alcohol is consumed, it is broken down into a toxic chemical substance called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde can damage DNA (the genetic material that makes up genes) inside our cells and can further avoid the repair of this damage in the DNA. This is important because it allows cancer to develop.
  • Generation of free radicals (chemically reactive molecules that may contain oxygen), which can additionally damage DNA, proteins, and lipids (fats) in the body through a process called oxidation, when oxygen containing radicals are involved, which is exacerbated by the presence of alcohol and acetaldehyde, particularly at higher BAC levels (above approx. 0.5-0.8 ‰, Gessner et al 2019, Ströhle et al 2012).
  • Alcohol can impair the body’s ability to break down and absorb a variety of nutrients that may be associated with cancer risk, including vitamin A; nutrients in the vitamin B complex, such as folate, niacin and vitamin B12,vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, and carotenoids (provitamin A). In addition, excess alcohol consumption reduces energy intake (by decreasing appetite, causing nausea and vomiting), consumes energy and vitamins during its metabolisation by the liver, and increases the elimination of metabolites by the kidney.
  • Alcohol acts as a dissolvent and makes it easier for cells in the mouth and throat to absorb other cancer-causing chemicals, in particular those of the tobacco smoke.
  • Alcohol can increase the levels of certain hormones in the body, including oestrogen. It is known that high levels of oestrogen can promote the development of breast cancer.








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Mediterranean drinking pattern

is defined as moderate intake of alcoholic beverages, with wine preference (≥80% of alcohol consumed as wine) and drinking only with meals.

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Mendelian Randomization

the basic idea of the Mendelian randomization is to use genetic variables as instrumental variables, i.e., genes associated with an exposure (in this study, alcohol consumption or alcohol metabolism) but not directly related to outcome (in this study, HDL-cholesterol and other lipid parameters).  Since the genetic pattern is determined before birth, it should not (at least, in theory) be confounded by later lifestyle exposures or outcome variables.  Thus, it allows the investigators to make causal inference.

Mendelian randomization provides an approach to addressing questions of causality without many of the typical biases that impact the validity of traditional epidemiologic approaches. While Mendelian randomization studies can provide important suggestive evidence for causal relations between risk factor (consumption of alcoholic beverages in this case) and disease outcome (blood lipid levels), they are not true experiments and are dependent on several assumptions. Evidence from randomized controlled trials, when possible, should continue to guide clinical decisions.

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is a method of summarizing the results of the same research purpose and comprehensively evaluating its combined effect. It can be an objective, systematic, comprehensive, qualitative and quantitative statistical analysis. It has functions that improve estimates of effect, construct a general review method for omitting inadequate study conclusions, and reinforce the effectiveness of statistical results to yield more comprehensive and reliable study results that are more representative of the general population.

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Metabolic Equivalent Task

refers to energy expenditure from sports and walking during the week.

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Metabolic syndrome

a cluster of abnormalities including increased abdominal fat, poor ability to use the hormone insulin, high blood pressure and high blood levels of triglycerides.

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Moli Sani

The Moli-sani study ( is a cohort study aiming at evaluating the risk factors (environmental, genetics, bio-molecular) linked to chronic-degenerative disease with particular regard to cancer, cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and neurodegenerative disease.


More information about the Moli Sani study on our databse: 

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