Week of June 18, 2012
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

AICR HealthTalk
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Does the link between alcohol and breast cancer risk refer to all alcohol consumption or only excessive amounts?

A: Alcohol’s link to increased risk of breast cancer begins at modest intake. If a woman has only one or two drinks a week, the actual increase in breast cancer risk is small but research shows that as consumption increases, so does risk. In fact for each standard drink a day there is about a 10 percent increase in breast cancer risk compared to women who drink zero or extremely little alcohol. (One standard drink refers to a five-ounce glass of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or one-and-a-half ounces of 80-proof liquor. Larger portions count as more than one drink.) Women who don’t meet their need for the B vitamin folate are especially vulnerable to alcohol-related breast cancer risk. However, meeting folate needs does not remove risk, and adding more folate than needed does not add additional protection. Alcohol is related to both pre- and post-menopausal breast cancer. A report of over 105,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study suggests that cumulative alcohol consumption throughout life is important to post-menopausal breast cancer. This adds support to theories that harmful exposures earlier in life can damage breast cells in ways that increase later risk of cancer.

Q: My friend told me that I’d feel less depressed if I’d start exercising. Is that true?

A: Being physically active could affect mood and brain function in several ways. Studies in people and animals suggest that exercise raises levels of proteins called neurotransmitters (such as serotonin and norepinephrine). These neurotransmitters impact people’s moods and emotions, making people feel less stressed, and seem to be part of how some anti-depressant medications work. Animal studies now also suggest that exercise can promote growth of new neurons (nerve cells) in certain parts of the brain, even in adults, in ways similar to what is seen with antidepressant medications. Researchers also note possible psychological benefits on mood from physical activity that don’t involve actual cellular changes. Both rest and physical activity can improve mood when people are depressed or stressed, but physical activity’s effects seem to last longer. Studies suggest that aerobic exercise (like walking) and strength training are equally effective; and neither needs to be intense or long lasting. Effects of regular physical activity on mood seem even greater after about two months. If you’ve been diagnosed with clinical depression (not just “feeling depressed”), research does suggest that exercise may enhance effectiveness of medication that may be prescribed for you, but definitely do not discontinue medication without consulting with the doctor who prescribed it for you.

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