From the Journals

American Cancer Society update: ‘It is best not to drink alcohol’


In its updated cancer prevention guidelines, the American Cancer Society now recommends that “it is best not to drink alcohol.”

Previously, ACS suggested that, for those who consume alcoholic beverages, intake should be no more than one drink per day for women or two per day for men. That recommendation is still in place, but is now accompanied by this new, stronger directive.

The revised guidelines also place more emphasis on reducing the consumption of processed and red meat and highly processed foods, and on increasing physical activity.

But importantly, there is also a call for action from public, private, and community organizations to work to together to increase access to affordable, nutritious foods and physical activity.

“Making healthy choices can be challenging for many, and there are strategies included in the guidelines that communities can undertake to help reduce barriers to eating well and physical activity,” said Laura Makaroff, DO, American Cancer Society senior vice president. “Individual choice is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but having the right policies and environmental factors to break down these barriers is also important, and that is something that clinicians can support.”

The guidelines were published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

The link between cancer and lifestyle factors has long been established, and for the past 4 decades, both government and leading nonprofit health organizations, including the ACS and the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research (WCRF/AICR), have released cancer prevention guidelines and recommendations that focus on managing weight, diet, physical activity, and alcohol consumption.

In 2012, the ACS issued guidelines on diet and physical activity, and their current guideline is largely based on the WCRF/AICR systematic reviews and Continuous Update Project reports, which were last updated in 2018. The ACS guidelines also incorporated systematic reviews conducted by the International Agency on Cancer Research (IARC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services (USDA/HHS) and other analyses that were published since the WCRF/AICR recommendations were released.

Emphasis on three areas

The differences between the old guidelines and the update do not differ dramatically, but Makaroff highlighted a few areas that have increased emphasis.

Time spent being physically active is critical. The recommendation has changed to encourage adults to engage in 150-300 minutes (2.5-5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity, or 75-150 minutes (1.25-2.5 hours) of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination, per week. Achieving or exceeding the upper limit of 300 minutes is optimal.

“That is more than what we have recommended in the past, along with the continued message that children and adolescents engage in at least 1 hour of moderate- or vigorous-intensity activity each day,” she told Medscape Medical News.

The ACS has also increased emphasis on reducing the consumption of processed and red meat. “This is part of a healthy eating pattern and making sure that people are eating food that is high in nutrients that help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight,” said Makaroff.

A healthy diet should include a variety of dark green, red, and orange vegetables; fiber-rich legumes; and fruits with a variety of colors and whole grains, according to the guidelines. Sugar-sweetened beverages, highly processed foods, and refined grain products should be limited or avoided.

The revised dietary recommendations reflect a shift from a “reductionist or nutrient-centric” approach to one that is more “holistic” and that focuses on dietary patterns. In contrast to a focus on individual nutrients and bioactive compounds, the new approach is more consistent with what and how people actually eat, ACS points out.

The third area that Makaroff highlighted is alcohol, where the recommendation is to avoid or limit consumption. “The current update says not to drink alcohol, which is in line with the scientific evidence, but for those people who choose to drink alcohol, to limit it to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.”

Thus, the change here is that the previous guideline only recommended limiting alcohol consumption, while the update suggests that, optimally, it should be avoided completely.

The ACS has also called for community involvement to help implement these goals: “Public, private, and community organizations should work collaboratively at national, state, and local levels to develop, advocate for, and implement policy and environmental changes that increase access to affordable, nutritious foods; provide safe, enjoyable, and accessible opportunities for physical activity; and limit alcohol for all individuals.”


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