sudsy, bubbly beer -- a wise, cheapintoxicant and just the kind of social lubricant you need for complex campus dalliances. In the big scheme of things, of course, less alcohol is better. But as a mind alterer, it's got some pluses if used judiciously. Research on the relationship between the fermented stuff and heart disease shows that you can protect your ticker by consuming one or two drinks a day.
But don't get too excited. Clinicians also find a consistent relationship between imbibing and breast cancer. More than two drinks a week starts raising a woman's risk. It turns out that alcohol raises blood sugar and does it faster than sugar. In fact, to get blood sugar back to normal your body produces a lot of insulin, and regular higher insulin levels are associated with a threefold increase in the risk of breast cancer.
Alcohol also stimulates the liver to produce an insulin-like growth factor, IGF-1, a substance also associated with breast cancer.
Drinking increases estrogen levels, another risk factor. And the more estrogen in your system, the more receptor sites there are for IGF-1.
But the guys don't get off unscathed either. High IGF-1 levels are associated with a higher prostate cancer risk. Alcohol is also toxic to the testicles, and because it stresses your liver, can tax your ability to maintain hormone balance. Beer, specifically, presents challenges to the male hormonal system. A key ingredient of all beers is a plant called hops. Guess what? Hops supplies a form of estrogen that can work against your internal testosterone supply and start a subtle gender-shifting process.
Yep, the famed beer belly is a guy's first step to womanhood. It's been observed to accompany breast growth and the kind of impotence sometimes called "brewer's drop." Beer can also raise prolactin levels, the hormone that helps women produce milk, and high prolactin levels are associated with an enlarged prostate.
A couple of beers a week won't produce these effects, but think carefully about overindulgence if you want to preserve that masculine image.
EXPERTS"Flax seed oil and ground flax seed help prevent breast cancer. If you're going to drink, chromium allows insulin to get into cells more easily, and will lower insulin and blood sugar levels. Take 200 mcg daily. If you drink, you need 50 mg of zinc and 400 to 500 mg of magnesium a day and a B-complex supplement twice a day. The herb milk thistle protects the liver."
SAT DHARAM KAUR, naturopath and author of A Call To Women: The Healthy Breast Program And Workbook
"The increase in breast cancer risk that has been associated with alcohol intake is trivial in terms of absolute risk, and I believe there are much more important things women can do to improve their health than avoid alcohol."
CORNELIA BAINES, professor emerita, department of public health sciences, U of T
"The breast cancer-alcohol connection has been a very consistent observation, probably the most consistent of all the dietary relationships. The more you drink, the bigger the effect. It isn't a big effect, but it's real. Folic acid intake seems to counteract the effect of alcohol on the breast. The bugaboo in this area is that alcohol consumption is associated with a decrease in cardiovascular disease. Some studies are beginning to question that association."
MICHAEL C. ARCHER, department of nutritional sciences, faculty of medicine, U of T
"No research has found a direct correlation between beer consumption and cancer. We say there are health benefits for the moderate drinker."
SANDY MORRISON, president, Brewers Association of Canada
"The effect of alcohol on male hormones is not a very clear picture. Part of the reason is that in long-term alcohol consumption there are also serious nutrient deficiencies. It makes it hard to determine what caused the problem. There is a possible link to prostrate cancer but I'm not aware of any major study."
DAVID JENKINS, department of nutritional sciences, U of T faculty of medicine