The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that no level of alcohol consumption is safe for human health.
The WHO said the risks and harms associated with drinking alcohol have been systematically evaluated over the years and are well-documented.
In a statement published in The Lancet Public Health, WHO said there is no safe amount of alcohol that does not affect health.
It noted that alcohol is a toxic, psychoactive, and dependence-producing substance and has been classified as a Group 1 Carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer decades ago.
“This is the highest risk group, which also includes asbestos, radiation and tobacco. Alcohol causes, at least, seven types of cancer, including the most common cancer types, such as bowel cancer and female breast cancer,” it said.
The WHO noted that ethanol (alcohol) causes cancer through biological mechanisms as the compound breaks down in the body, saying that any beverage containing alcohol, regardless of its price and quality, poses cancer risk.
It added that the risk of developing cancer increases substantially the more alcohol that is consumed.
Meanwhile, available data from WHO, indicate that half of all alcohol-attributable cancers in the European Region are caused by ‘light’ and ‘moderate’ alcohol consumption – less than 1.5 litres of wine or less than 3.5 litres of beer, or less than 450 millilitres of spirits per week.
According to the data, this drinking pattern is responsible for the majority of alcohol-attributable breast cancers in women, with the highest burden observed in countries of the European Union.
It noted that in the EU, cancer is the leading cause of death with a steadily increasing incidence rate, and the majority of all alcohol-attributable deaths are due to different types of cancers.
“We cannot talk about a so-called safe level of alcohol use. It doesn’t matter how much you drink – the risk to the drinker’s health starts from the first drop of any alcoholic beverage.
“The only thing that we can say for sure is that the more you drink, the more harmful it is – or, in other words, the less you drink, the safer it is,” explains Dr. Carina Ferreira-Borges, acting Unit Lead for Non-communicable Disease Management and Regional Advisor for Alcohol and Illicit Drugs in the WHO Regional Office for Europe.
Buttressing this point, in a work titled, ‘What’s next for WHO’s global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol?’ published in the National Library of Medicine by David H Jernigan, and team, the authors stated that alcohol is responsible for about three million deaths per year.
It read, “Alcohol continues as the seventh leading risk factor, responsible for approximately three million deaths per year, and the leading cause of death among persons aged 15 to 49 years. Alcohol is also, notably, the only drug for which there is no international convention.
“Along with alcohol-related harm, the alcohol industry and its marketing activities transcend national borders and call for a transnational response. Both the alcohol and the noncommunicable diseases global strategies have relied on voluntary action by Member States. Neither has shown success in stemming the rise of alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harms.
“Almost 10 years after the World Health Assembly adopted the Global strategy to reduce harmful use of alcohol, and seven years after the inclusion of alcohol as one of the key risk factors in the WHO’s Global action plan for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases 2013–2030, Member States have made little progress in addressing alcohol use as a risk factor for health.
“We reach this conclusion based on analysis of Member States’ self-reports of actions to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. Results were published in WHO’s 2018 Global status report on alcohol and health, mostly with data from the 2016 survey, but also including some data from the 2015 survey. Both surveys showed that progress on alcohol policies has been slow.
“The alcohol strategy outlined 10 areas, with three identified as the most effective and cost–effective interventions to reduce alcohol-related harm, costing less than 100 United Sates dollars (US$) per disability-adjusted life year averted.
“These interventions include strengthening restrictions on alcohol availability, bans or comprehensive restrictions on alcohol advertising across multiple media platforms and increasing alcohol excise taxes.”
However, a Consultant Gynaecologist at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Teaching Hospital, Awka, Anambra State, Dr. Stanley Egbogu, said alcohol does not serve any good to pregnant women.
“What we advise is that they should abstain from alcohol. That is the baseline,” he added.
Egbogu, who stated that no level of alcohol is good for a foetus, said the attitude of some women who underestimate the impact of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and still indulge in the act, is regrettable.
“Alcohol affects every organ of the baby and might lead to a baby having a small head – microcephaly. It affects the heart, kidney, and liver of the baby,” he said.
According to him, microcephaly is a condition in which a baby’s head is significantly smaller than expected, often due to abnormal brain development.
Egbogu urged pregnant women still taking alcohol to stop while reminding them that there is no known safe amount of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
More so, a fertility expert and Managing Director, Nordica Fertility Centre, Dr. Abayomi Ajayi urged the women who are trying to achieve pregnancy to stay away from alcoholic drinks and others, saying that it may affect the chances of one getting pregnant.
Ajayi, who is also a Consultant Gynecologist and Obstetrician added that though the most likely impact of alcohol on getting pregnant would be from mid-cycle to the time of the expected period, it is safer to steer clear while expecting conception.