Alcohol and Gliomas: Effect of Drinking on Risk of Gliomas

Is there a link between drinking alcohol and gliomas? If so, what is the nature of that link? 

I. Study: Alcohol and Gliomas

To discover if there is a link between alcohol and gliomas, researchers examined data from three studies. To do so they used data from very large studies that had followed participant over time. There were 237,505 participants. In addition, there were 6,216,378 person-years of follow up.

alcohol and gliomas
Standard Drinks

The earlier investigators had asked participants periodically about their alcohol drinking. Therefore, researchers had data on how much and how often they drank. They also had the same data separately for beer, wine, and distilled spirits. Spirits are tequila, vodka, whiskey, rum, gin, etc.

Note that standard drinks all contain the same amount of pure alcohol. That is, 14 grams.

Results

In short, researchers found that drinking alcohol reduced the risk of developing gliomas.

To do so they made comparisons. On one hand, were those who drank over eight grams per day up to 15 g/d. On the other, were those who had up to 1/2 g/d. Those who drank more had a 25% lower risk of gliomas. 

Next they compared  those who drank more to the very light drinkers. That is, those who consumed >15 g/d to ≤0.5 g/d.

In this case, the >15 g/d group had a 29% reduced risk of gliomas. The results were similar for both men and women.

Furthermore, researchers found consistent results for cumulative average, baseline, recent drinking, and with a four year lag.

In addition, there were no difference is the protective power of beer, wine, and distilled spirits.

II. Gliomas

alcohol and gliomas
A glioma

A primary brain tumor like a glioma is one that originates there. That is, it doesn’t spread there from another part of the body. Nor is it it likely to spread.

Only about one in 200 does so. In fact, doctors used to think it was impossible.

“Glia” means glue. Thus glial cells are the glue that holds things together in the brain. Importantly, they also support and nourish nerve cells (neurons). 

Gliomas develop in the glial cells. About one-third of all brain tumors are gliomas. However, gliomas can also occur within the spinal cord.

Doctors call the most aggressive type of gliomas glioblastomas. Therefore, all glioblastomas are gliomas. But not all gliomas are glioblastomas. 

Almost 60% of gliomas are glioblastomas. Unfortunately, the five year survival rate those with glioblastomas is only 6.8% after diagnosis.

III. Preventing Gliomas

The exact cause of gliomas is not known. But there are some factors that may increase your risk of a glioma. On one hand, some can be changed. On the other hand some cannot.

    • Age. Generally speaking, the risk of gliomas increases with age. However, some forms of gliomas are more common in children and young adults.
    • Family History. A family history of gliomas doubles the risk of having one. However, they rarely run in families.
    • Abstaining from alcohol. Not drinking enough beer, wine, or distilled spirits.
    • Exposure to ionizing radiation. This type of radiation is used to treat cancer. It also occurs from being near atomic bomb detonations.

To date, no diet supplement has shown the ability to reduce the risk of gliomas. Nor for their returning. That includes any vitamin, mineral, or herbal.

Note that supplements are not regulated, as are meds in the U.S. In order to be sold, they don’t even need to be safe!

III. Symptoms of Gliomas

The symptoms of a glioma vary by the specific type, its location, size, and grouth rate. However, common signs of gliomas include any of these.

    • Headaches
    • Speech problems
    • Confusion
    • Memory problems
    • Vision problems
    • Nausea/vomiting
    • Personality changes
    • Dizziness/balance problems
    • Urinary incontinence
    • Weakness (arms, legs, or face)
    • Numbness

IV. Resources: Alcohol and Gliomas

Web Page

Alcohol and Cancer Risk

Helpful Readings

alcohol and gliomasBlack, P. Living with a Brain Tumor. NY: Henry Holt, 2013.

Hammock, J. An Open Approach to Living with Cancer. Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2014.

Rodin, G. Managing Cancer and Living Meaningfully. NY: Oxford U Press, 2021.

Stuntz, E. And Linehan, M. Coping with Cancer. NY: Guilford, 2021.

Notes

  1. Of course, this website gives no advice about alcohol and gliomas. So please see your doctor for medical advice. That is the expert who knows your medical history.
  2. Brain image courtesy Nat Inst Cancer.