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Acetaldehyde content of alcoholic beverages may be risk factor for some cancer types

Researchers from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health and a team of German scientists found evidence that alcohol consumption is the biggest risk factor in acetaldehyde-related cases of cancer.

Acetaldehyde is an organic chemical which various research studies have shown to have a significant contribution to the development of certain cancers, such as upper digestive tract cancer. It is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization as possibly carcinogenic. Acetaldehyde is present almost everywhere – in the air, in foods, and in alcoholic beverages.

The study at hand from the Toronto-based CAMH and the Germany-based Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Laboratory Karlsruhe (CVUA) provides the necessary methodology to calculate the risks for cancer presented by the consumptions of alcoholic beverages.

Using the said methodology, the researchers from the two centers discovered that the risk presented by ingesting acetaldehyde from alcoholic beverages may exceed safety limits, especially among heavy drinkers.

Specifically, the researchers found that exposure to acetaldehyde in alcoholic beverages ensued in a 7.6/10,000 lifetime cancer risk. The researchers also reported higher scenarios where the risk was 1 in 1,000. These findings, the researchers explained, suggest that lifetime risks for acetaldehyde related cancers greatly exceed the normal limits for environment cancer risks.

The researchers, however, noted that the risk identified above is not caused by exposure to acetaldehyde in alcoholic beverages alone. According to the research team, this risk was compounded by acetaldehyde derived from other sources.

“The problem with acetaldehyde has been that although it has been recognized as toxic by Health Canada some years ago, most risk assessments to date were based on one source of exposure only” explained Dr. Jürgen Rehm, lead scientist of the Toronto researches and head of CAMH’s Public Health and Regulatory Policies office. This, he explained, led to the neglect of the overall risk.

Based on their findings, the CAMH team presented the following recommendations: re-examination of the classification of acetaldehyde in relation to cancer; consideration of all sources of acetaldehyde in future risk assessments; recognition of the cancer risk presented by acetaldehyde in alcoholic beverages; and carrying out of preventive measures to reduce the amount of acetaldehyde in alcoholic beverages.

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