3 Weird Things About Acetaldehyde

Posted on by DCPC

By Jane HenleyDrinking alcohol raises the risk of some cancers. Drinking any kind of alcohol can contribute to cancers of the mouth and throat, larynx (voice box), esophagus, colon and rectum, liver, and breast (in women). The less alcohol you drink, the lower the risk of cancer.

  1. Acetaldehyde can cause cancer, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
  2. The more acetaldehyde you are exposed to, the higher your cancer risk.
  3. 1 in 2 adults and 1 in 3 youth in the United States were exposed to acetaldehyde in the past month because they drank alcohol.

What Is Acetaldehyde?

When you drink alcohol, your body breaks it down into a chemical called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde damages your DNA and prevents your body from repairing the damage. DNA is the cell’s “instruction manual” that controls a cell’s normal growth and function. When DNA is damaged, a cell can begin growing out of control and create a cancer tumor. A toxic buildup of acetaldehyde can increase your cancer risk.

The Link Between Alcohol and Cancer May Surprise You

At least six cancers are linked to alcohol use: mouth and throat, voice box, esophagus, liver, colon and rectum, and breast (in women).

All types of alcoholic drinks―even red and white wine, craft beers, and cocktails―are linked with cancer. The more you drink, the higher your cancer risk. But it’s not just excessive drinkers at risk. For example, with each 10 grams of pure alcohol (less than one drink a day), a woman’s risk for breast cancer goes up 5% before menopause, and 9% after menopause.

The less alcohol you drink, the lower your risk of cancer. If you choose to drink, drink no more than one drink a day (for women) or no more than two drinks a day (for men).

Secret Ways to Lower Your Cancer Risk

While there is no proven way to completely prevent cancer, limiting the amount of alcohol you drink is one of the most important things you can do to lower your risk of getting cancer. There are other things you can do, too:

More Information

Alcohol and Cancer

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8 comments on “3 Weird Things About Acetaldehyde”

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    This article states “For example, with each 10 grams of pure alcohol (less than one drink a day), a woman’s risk for breast cancer goes up 5% before menopause, and 9% after menopause.”

    This would appear to indicate that EACH INDIVIDUAL DRINK increases the risk by 5% or 9%. Is this correct? Once a pre-menopause woman hits 20 drinks, lifetime consumption, she has doubled her risk for breast cancer? So, even a woman following the no-more-than-one-drink-a-day guideline could double her cancer risk in less than a month?

    Thank you for your question. The blog post is referring to alcohol drinking patterns. Compared to a woman who doesn’t drink alcohol, a woman who drinks an average of 10 grams of pure alcohol (less than one drink) per day has a 5% higher risk of getting breast cancer before menopause, and a 9% higher risk of getting breast cancer after menopause. For more information, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/alcohol/.

    How does acetaldehyde do this? I thought it was the free energy in the bloodstream causedby sugar and alcohol that feeds a nascent or growing tumor… not metabolites like acetaldehyde. Please explain if possible.

    Acetaldehyde damages your DNA and prevents your body from repairing the damage. DNA is the cell’s “instruction manual” that controls a cell’s normal growth and function. When DNA is damaged, a cell can begin growing out of control and create a cancer tumor. A toxic buildup of acetaldehyde can increase your cancer risk. This blog post from Cancer Research UK may help explain the process: https://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2016/02/09/how-does-alcohol-cause-cancer/

    If for example a person only drank bourbon that was at (50-60% alcohol / 100-120 proof) vs someone who drank beer at a much lower proof (say 10% Alcohol /20 proof), does that mean that person drinking bourbon is exposed to 5-6 times the amount of Acetaldehyde vs the Beer Drinker? I’m sure everybodys body is different but how does that work?

    Also, are there any studies on how quickly a throat type cancer has or can occur in heavy drinkers, example 4yrs, 15yrs, etc.. This is tough to estimate just curious what the studies may show?

    It depends on how much Bourbon and how much beer. One bottle/can beer is 12 oz; 1 shot of bourbon is 1.5 oz. Both have the same amount of alcohol. If you were to drink a 12 oz beer glass worth of bourbon, it’s actually EIGHT shots, so 8 beers worth, not 5-6 times.
    People usually consume much, much more total alcohol when they drink bourbon and hard liquor as part of a routine as opposed to beer. Drinking 4 beers, 48 oz of liquid, that’s abnormal consuming of beverages in general. But 12 oz; is not, and if its 80 proof liquor that’s a high level of intoxication.
    I am a recovered alcoholic with 16 years of sobriety. I worry about acetaldehyde in vaping and ‘safe’ nicotine products. Its in tobacco and added to other products because it increases the dopamine payoff, makes tobacco and vaping more addictive than nicotine alone.

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Page last reviewed: Tuesday, June 23, 2020
Page last updated: Tuesday, June 23, 2020