In last week’s podcast episode, we had Carolyn Taylor, the founder of Global Focus on Cancer. She discusses the new direction set at 2022’s World Cancer Congress concerning alcohol consumption. The new direction will drive global public health policy (Source). This matters because widespread access, social acceptance, and community building around alcohol are reminiscent of cigarette smoking from a few decades ago. In this newsletter, we wanted to share additional insights on the link between alcohol consumption and cancer risk.
In preparation for it, we decided to do two activities. (1) Review “articles” written by AI authors, including ChatGPT, DocsGPT, and DocGPT; (2) Conduct our standard secondary research - review papers published, meta-analyses conducted, policies drafted, and action plans created.
The following summary stems heavily from the articles written by the AI authors. We found the top-line insights and key takeaways to be accurate. The only actual content we found that needed to be added to the ChatGPTs of the world were illustrations and diagrams that can be leveraged to explain additional insights. We reviewed a number of the answers to our questions but found the need to rewrite what our AI authors had drafted. The need stemmed from the desire to be more concise, drive home specific ideas, and synthesize core insights across our various queries.
- Heavy drinking is linked to developing several cancers. Heavy drinking, defined as more than three drinks per day, increases the risk of developing mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and breast cancers. Even moderate drinking, defined as one or two drinks per day, has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer in women.
- Is alcohol a carcinogen? Alcohol is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) due to its strong link to several types of cancer. Alcohol can increase the production of free radicals and damage DNA, causing mutations that can lead to an increased risk of cancer. Lastly, alcohol can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb and use essential nutrients, such as folate, for DNA repair and cell growth.
- Which cancers have been strongly linked to alcohol consumption? Head and neck cancers, esophageal cancers, liver cancers, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer. With all these cancers, heavy drinking increases the risk significantly. With breast cancer, light drinking, defined as 1 drink per day, can increase risk.
- Does drinking more alcohol increase cancer risk? The link between alcohol consumption and cancer risk is dose-dependent, meaning that the more alcohol consumed, the higher the risk of developing cancer. This means that reducing alcohol consumption or quitting alcohol altogether can help lower the risk of developing cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that men limit their alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day, and women limit their alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day.
- Isn’t red wine good for you? The relationship between red wine and cancer is complex, and more research is required to fully understand the risks and benefits. Having said that, there is some evidence that consuming red wine in large amounts over a long period of time may increase the risk of several cancers. The notion that red wine is beneficial for you stems from the compound called resveratrol, which has shown to have anti-cancer properties in the laboratory. However, whether the amount of resveratrol in red wine is sufficient to provide any health benefits is yet to be determined. Lastly, some studies suggest that the alcohol in red wine may counteract the potential benefits of resveratrol.
- How exactly does alcohol cause cancer? The exact mechanism of action is not fully understood. There are several competing explanations:
- Acetaldehyde: When we drink alcohol, our bodies convert it to acetaldehyde, which can damage DNA and proteins in cells, leading to cancer.
- Reactive oxygen species (ROS): Alcohol consumption increases production of ROS, which can also damage DNA.
- Impaired immune function: Alcohol consumption can impair function of the immune system, making it less effective at identifying and destroying cancer cells.
- Hormonal changes: Alcohol consumption can alter hormone levels in the body, which can increase the risk of hormone-related cancers, such as, breast cancer.
In summary, the American Institute of Cancer Research suggests to prevent cancer, removing alcohol entirely is critical. If one does consume alcohol, limiting use to 1 drink/day for women and 2 drinks/day for men is recommended (Source).
The secondary takeaway for us, outside of the critical insights on alcohol, is the power of chatGPT. In many ways, it has further democratized access to patient-friendly information. We reduced the number of hours we spent researching a topic.
However, we wish that ChatGPT could:
- Point out its sources of information, be it summary articles, or scientific abstracts
- Include relevant infographics and visuals
- Provide a degree of confidence in the answers provided
We’re not ready to only trust ChatGPT, but we do see it’s power in enabling any of us to become the patients from hell.