Dealing with cancer changes many aspects of life, including our lifestyle choices. In my cancer nutrition workshops, the topic of alcohol consumption after a cancer diagnosis typically arises towards the end of the session - an unspoken question until someone bravely speaks up! A collective sigh of relief follows, indicating that many have silently pondered the same question!
In this blog, we explore the nuances of alcohol consumption after a cancer diagnosis, sharing insights from these moments and providing practical tips for those seeking balance.
Understanding the Alcohol and Cancer Link:
The guidance on alcohol and cancer prevention is straightforward. The World Cancer Research Fund recommends limiting alcohol consumption due to its links with seven types of cancer. For cancer prevention, it is advised not to drink alcohol at all. If you do choose to include alcohol, it's recommended to follow national guidelines. In the UK, this means not exceeding 14 units a week, spread over at least three days for both men and women.
However, when exploring the connection between alcohol and cancer survivors, the literature provides no definitive answers, leaving us with uncertainties. Questions arise: Does this uncertainty imply that alcohol's impact on cancer risk is more significant earlier in life and not as closely tied to consumption within the past few years? Is the impact of alcohol consumption intertwined with other factors, creating a complex situation that makes its influence on recurrence and survivorship unclear? Could variations exist not only in factors like hormone sensitivity and genetic differences related to alcohol metabolism but also in interactions with other personal characteristics? Once again, we find ourselves in a realm of uncertainty - and the truth is, we don't know.
While awaiting further conclusive research, it is comforting to approach this phase with a mindset of caution and balance. Transitioning from active treatment to the path of survivorship can be physically and emotionally challenging, requiring time to find your "new normal." As you move forward and, if your health allows, your focus may shift towards looking after your overall well-being and lessening the risks of other health conditions. This includes keeping an eye on heart health and reducing the chances of issues like type 2 diabetes, both of which can play a significant role in the well-being of those living with and beyond cancer. Importantly, this health and wellbeing approach extends to lessening the risk of other cancers too. Considering all these factors, it could be worthwhile to thoughtfully explore the idea of at least cutting back on alcohol intake, aligning with the broader goal of safeguarding your overall health.
But Isn’t Red Wine Good For You?!
Many believe that red wine offers health benefits for the heart. However, the verdict on this matter is not straightforward. According to the British Heart Foundation, the evidence is nuanced. While there is some suggestion that a moderate amount of alcohol might slightly reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (heart attack), the same does not hold true for other conditions like stroke and vascular dementia. Experts caution against starting to drink solely for heart health.
The World Cancer Research Fund suggests that the presumed advantages of alcohol for heart health might be less significant than once thought. They emphasise that any potential benefits are observed at low levels of consumption (less than 5 units or 2.5–3 drinks a week) and are specific to certain population groups. In contrast, maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle can help protect people against both cancer and heart disease.
Researchers have proposed that red wine may contribute to heart protection due to its antioxidants, also known as cell protectors. Notably, a polyphenol called resveratrol found in red wine has gained attention for potential health benefits. It's essential to note, though, that other foods like grapes, blueberries, and strawberries also contain resveratrol without the potential negative effects associated with alcohol consumption.
Navigating Your Choices:
Choosing whether to include alcohol in your life post-cancer diagnosis is deeply personal. Whether you lean towards complete avoidance, aligning with preventive guidelines, or opt for moderate consumption, the decision is yours. Alcohol often plays a significant role in social gatherings, cultural norms, and celebratory moments. In this path, you are the CEO of your life, empowered to make decisions that resonate with you. It's important to acknowledge that people's choices can change from time to time, and that's perfectly fine. Honouring the choice that feels right for you, in any given moment, is key.
Shared Wisdom: Tips from My Recent Cancer Nutrition Workshop
In my cancer nutrition workshop, we shared valuable tips and experiences. It wasn't just me; other professionals and participants contributed, creating a wonderful exchange of insights. These little gems of wisdom from our shared discussions, aren't an exhaustive list, but I'm passing them along with the hope that they might help others navigating their nutrition after a cancer diagnosis.
Figure Out Your Why: Consider why you reach for that glass of wine or beer. If it's to de-stress, unwind, or reward yourself for a tough day, there are more nourishing alternatives to explore. Instead of reaching for a drink, try going for a walk in nature, an online yoga session, practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques, painting or any hobby that brings you joy. Indulging in a long bath with your favourite bubble bath can also be a soothing way to unwind. Reserve alcohol for moments when you genuinely enjoy the taste, are celebrating, or marking a special occasion. Let it be about savouring the experience, not just as a way to cope with stress.
Personal Discovery in Moderation: In our discussions, many people shared a common sentiment – that as we reduced our alcohol intake, the desire for it naturally lessened. Consider savouring the experience of just half a glass of wine or a small serving of your preferred drink. By embracing moderation, you may discover that you want less over time.
Nourishing Your Energy Levels: After completing cancer treatment, many people still struggle with persistent fatigue. It's worth noting that alcohol consumption can worsen feelings of tiredness and lethargy, and it's not great for sleep either. Instead of choosing alcohol, consider adopting habits that support your well-being. Prioritise nutritious meals, maintain proper hydration, incorporate regular movement into your routine, and try to get good sleep. Opting for a lifestyle that avoids regular alcohol consumption and focuses on nourishing your body might contribute to increased energy levels and resilience.
Designate Alcohol-Free Days: Consider allocating specific days of the week where you choose not to consume any alcohol. This intentional approach provides structured breaks, allowing you to enjoy moments without alcohol and promoting a healthier balance in your lifestyle. It's a simple yet effective strategy. Remember, any reduction in the amount you drink every week will be beneficial.
Set Your Intentions: Before engaging in any situation where alcohol may be involved, take a moment to set clear intentions regarding your alcohol consumption. Whether it's a social event, a meet up with friends, or any other scenario, planning ahead with a strategy can empower you. Practice saying, "No, thank you," with a friendly smile and eye contact, or establish limits if you choose to have a drink – for instance, commit to just one drink and resist top-ups. By proactively setting your intentions, you create a roadmap for yourself, making it easier to stick to your decisions in any context.
Explore Low Alcohol and Alcohol-Free Options: The world of low alcohol and alcohol-free beverages has evolved significantly in recent times! I haven’t been able to drink any alcohol for the last few months, so I've had the opportunity to explore a range of options. Ordinarily, my treat drink of choice would be a glass of rose champagne, but a friend gifted me the most delicious bottle of Rose sparkling tea from Fortnum and Mason. Additionally, my family members thoroughly enjoyed the bottles of REAL sparkling tea and L.A Brewery kombucha I shared over Christmas. When poured into a champagne flute or wine glass, these drinks look every bit as indulgent as their alcoholic counterparts. Not only do they taste lovely, but they also spare you from the aftermath of a hangover!
Savour Every Drop and Make Your Wine Last: Indulging in your favourite wine is an experience that doesn't have to be rushed. Consider investing in a sensibly priced wine saver vacuum stopper. This handy tool removes air from the bottle, creates a vacuum seal, and preserves the flavour of your wine for up to 10 days. Take your time, savour each glass, and make that special bottle last.
I hope you find some of these tips helpful. They're here to support you in making choices that feel right for you. If you ever want more personalised advice, feel free to book an appointment at your convenience.
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