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Mucking with My Martini

Judging from readers' comments on Sally Squires's article yesterday about the link between women's alcohol consumption and breast-cancer risk, I'm not the only one feeling caught off guard. Several readers wondered what this might mean for their individual risk, and others wondered whether alcohol's stress-reducing qualities might help offset its potential cancer-causing ones in the grand scheme of our personal health.

Unlike the cocktail-party chatters one of Sally's sources refers to, I've been aware of the alcohol-breast cancer link for a while. While I suppose the rational -- and, some might argue, professional, given my status as a health writer -- response would be to stop drinking, especially since there's some history of suspected breast cancer in my family, I can't shake the feeling that the whole thing's a big gyp.

I love to sip a martini in the evening with my husband, after the kids have gone to bed. It's relaxing, and it seems like I work hard enough, and I'm a full-fledged adult enough, to have earned that privilege. I don't smoke; I eat healthfully and get plenty of exercise. So why does the pleasure I take in my tipples have to be encumbered by fear that I may be fueling my own future ill health?

I don't think there's some big conspiracy out there bent on spoiling my fun. And I am of course grateful to the legions of medical researchers out there seeking answers to big health questions that could spell better health for my kids and their kids some day.

But it would be nice if enjoying -- responsibly, in the privacy of my own home, no driving involved -- a nightcap could feel like good, clean fun again.

I do applaud efforts by a consortium of public health organizations and consumer groups calling on the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to include not just standard dietary information -- listing amounts of calories, fat, carbs, and protein -- on the labels of all alcoholic beverages but also the amount of alcohol per serving and the concrete information that serving sizes are 1.5 fluid ounces for 80-proof distilled spirits, 12 fluid ounces for beer, and 5 fluid ounces for wine and that a standard drink contains 0.6 fluid ounces of alcohol. Even the industry trade group the Distilled Spirits Council supports the proposed labeling, which moves beyond the Tax and Trade Bureau's proposal to add just the dietary info to the labels.

Knowing those serving sizes and the standard drink quantity would help us decipher and understand alcohol-consumption research. And it should help people keep better tabs on how much alcohol they actually consume when they drink. (Not to mention those pesky calories.)

In the meantime, I'm cutting back to having my martinis just on weekend nights. And, for perspective, I've re-read this New York Times article from last fall about how increased-risk figures might play out in real life.

I guess there's no such thing as a free lunch, after all. Or a free martini.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  April 23, 2008; 7:15 AM ET
Categories:  Prevention  
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