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New alcohol guidelines hard to swallow

Seems like we all need to cut back on alcohol. Last fall, the Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), a national organization that provides information and advice on substance use and addiction, made recommendations that we all shouldn’t have more than a drink or two a week. We just found out that these are now Canada’s official guidelines.

Since 2011, moderate drinking in Canada has been defined as having up to two standard drinks per day for women and up to three standard drinks per day for men, with no more than 10 standard drinks per week for women and 15 standard drinks per week for men. So a limit of one or two drinks a week is a complete departure from the public recommendations we’ve been given before. In addition, the CCSA also recommends placing warning labels on bottles advising that alcohol can cause cancer.

It’s unclear whether Canadians would welcome such labels, but when you look at the scientific literature and the links between alcohol use and cancer, the results over the last few years are stunning. The evidence that alcohol causes seven types of cancer is now incredibly strong. Numerous studies from all over the world are easy to find; Many of them are not cited by the CCSA. Some articles claim that current estimates suggest that alcohol-related cancer accounts for 5.8 percent of all cancer deaths worldwide.

These studies, coupled with the CCSA’s recommendations, are likely to be met with great skepticism by many Canadians. After all, we are living longer and many seniors are drinking regularly and responsibly without suffering any health problems.

Alcohol has been around for a very, very long time. Historians claim that fermented beverages existed in ancient Egypt. Some archives also suggest that the Chinese were drinking alcohol over 9,000 years ago. Intuitively, it’s hard to understand why anyone would put alcohol in the penalty box the way we’ve done cigarettes or other harmful products in our lives. According to several studies, other substances and factors can also cause cancer. But the risks have now been scientifically proven.

But the CCSA’s scientific assessment is far from perfect. For one thing, a number of studies still show the benefits of moderate consumption when considering all causes of death when assessing health risks. In other words, alcohol use may not be the leading cause of death, even for a regular drinker. These studies are mentioned in the report, but only marginally.

Another important oversight by the CCSA is its assessment of the social and cultural aspects of drinking. Alcohol is an integral part of many celebrations, recreational events, holidays, vacations, daily routines and more. The CCSA rejected all research that looked at the social value of alcohol, believing that none of it merited scientific consideration. Perhaps overlooking such an important piece of behavioral science will only leave more Canadians unconvinced. This area of ​​research deserves more attention, and many Canadians would probably agree.

Alcohol socializing doesn’t just have its good side, however. Unwanted social issues are also evident, including mental and physical ailments, instances of abuse, sexual and domestic violence, harassment, and so on. Alcohol is often part of the dark side of our society.

The CCSA’s recommendations point to an opportunity for Canadians to gain a deeper and better understanding of our relationship with alcohol. We must be open and honest with ourselves while acknowledging the fact that drinking our favorite alcohol responsibly, in moderation, remains the most balanced policy.

But there is hope. If we can make chicken meat in the lab, surely we can make synthetic, non-carcinogenic alcohol. In fact, UK-based GABA Labs has already released a product called Sentia that mimics the effects of alcohol but doesn’t cause hangovers or long-term health consequences. Many expect the science to be perfected within five years and commercially available in many outlets. Very promising.

Still, our beverage industry has worked wonders for Canadians and will no doubt continue to innovate and provide great products for all to enjoy.

Food science can come to the rescue and help many Canadians lead better, healthier lifestyles. But in the meantime, the CCSA report is likely to be a difficult message for Canadians to swallow.

dr Sylvain Charlebois is Senior Director of the Laboratory for Agro-Food Analysis and Professor of Food Distribution and Policy at Dalhousie University.


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