Criticism of new survey study on alcohol consumption and cancer

21 September 2018

Last week the results of a literature study on the relationship between alcohol and cancer appeared on the internet. The author of the study is Henk Hendriks, consultant and owner of Hendriks Nutrition Support for Business, and W. Calame. The first reactions to this study indicate a lot of criticism.

Hendriks et al. investigated to what extent alcohol use in the Western world contributes to the risk of developing cancer, both in men and in women. The conclusion is that moderate alcohol consumption (defined in the study as less than 1.5 glass per day) is not associated with the 20 most common types of cancer. In women there was a clear risk of cancer at 2 glasses of alcohol per day, in men at 4.5 glasses. A consumption level above 6 glasses per day means a substantially higher risk for the 20 most common cancers.

These conclusions are not in line with earlier studies. These studies found that the risk of getting certain types of cancer is already existing at lower consumption levels. For example for breast cancer, where every glass of alcohol increases the risk. Various scientists therefore respond in the first instance very critically to the new study. Partly because much is unclear. Which studies are involved in the analysis? Why is there no list of these studies? Why the results are published in the Journal of Nutrition and Health Sciences, a magazine from Annex Publishers, a publisher with a bad reputation? Why it is unfairly stated that there is no conflict of interest given the fact that the first author, Henk Hendriks, has close ties with the alcohol producers for decades? Why is it not mentioned that the Knowledge Institute Beer, which supported the research financially, is an organization that is financed by the Dutch brewers?

Wim van Dalen, director of the Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy STAP, recognizes in this study the increasing unrest among the alcohol producers about the proven relationship between alcohol use and the development of cancer. Contrary to what this new study claims, it is clear to independent scientists that there is no safe low limit for the use of alcohol and the development of cancer. This conclusion is also the basis of the Dutch Health Council's advice on alcohol consumption: "From a health point of view, drinking alcohol is not the most sensible choice, and those who want to drink are advised not to drink more than 1 glass a day."

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