Doctors attending the American Digestive Diseases week in Orlando Florida this past May were presented findings that suggests moderate drinking may help prevent the growth of cancer-linked polyps. The alcohol of choice does not matter as the same relationship was found between wine, beer, and hard liquor.

In the study presented, over 600 healthy, older adult patients coming into their hospital’s endoscopy unit were asked to fill out questionnaires detailing diet, smoking, drinking and medical histories prior to undergoing a colonoscopy. Polyps were found in 30 percent of patients. Their main finding was that if you are a mild-to-moderate drinker, you’re less likely to have a colon polyp than if you’re not a drinker. In fact, risk for polyps dropped 80% in the light-drinking group compared with non-drinkers. They defined mild-to-moderate drinking as about one or two drinks daily.

Researchers speculate that alcohol may help suppress the activity of oncogenes – specific genes that are thought to spur the growth of both benign polyps and malignant tumours. They stressed that only light drinking appears to benefit colon health and, in fact, as the amount of alcohol consumption increases, the heavy drinkers tend to have a higher risk of colon polyps. More research on a wider and more varied population needs to be conducted to be sure these results hold.

It is important to note that no dietary recommendations can be made from this study. It is still accepted that a healthy, balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables is excellent for overall health and also for preventing colon cancer.

First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 138 – July/August 2003