One lovely ritual my husband and I enjoy is a martini in front of the fire as we listen to Prairie Home Companion on Saturday evening. Alcohol can be a pleasant addition to a social occasion—or a cause for one. I have relaxed over an Irish coffee with family on the Colorado ski slopes; watched the sun set over the island of Lesbos, Greece, while sipping a glass of the Greek’s legendary retsina (which tastes a little like turpentine); and warmed up with the Slovene pear brandy slivovka while shopping for a Christmas tree in the Ljubljana open market.
I like the taste of alcohol and I love its rituals, so it has been difficult for me to step back and cut down my drinking, but I have done it because several studies have linked alcohol and the risk of breast cancer. The most recent, by Kaiser Permanente researchers and presented to the European Cancer Conference in September 2007, showed that one drink a day of alcohol of any type—beer, wine, spirits—increased breast cancer risk by ten percent. The risk rose by the drink—three drinks equaled a 30 percent risk. This is a relative risk—it is compared to the risk faced by a woman who drinks no alcohol or less than one drink a day.
Folic acid can help—just 600 micrograms can reduce the effect of alcohol on breast cancer risk, according to research in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Folic acid is the synthetic form of the B-vitamin folate. Folic acid can also reduce the risk of colon cancer, control the side effects of the cancer drug methotrexate and help with everything from inflammatory bowel disease to rheumatoid arthritis. The National Institute of Health gives a good overview of folic acid—where you can get it, how it can help with various medical conditions, how much you need, plus some cautionary notes about how it interacts with B12. They warn again too large a dose—1000 micrograms or more.
My daily green drink and my broccoli snack both have folate. Fortified breakfast cereals have a good deal of the stuff, as does beef liver. Ugh! Natural foods, though, are not as good a source of folic acid as dietary supplements—I’d have to eat six cups of broccoli to get my 600 micrograms—so I take a B-complex capsule every day, plus a multivitamin with folic acid.
With ample fortification, I feel I can still enjoy the one martini. And, occasionally, a glass of wine or a beer during the week. I find I do not miss alcohol as much as I thought I would. I often sip pure black cherry juice in a wine glass and find it highly satisfying—the ritual without the risk. And when I go back to Greece, I may just enjoy its beauty without the turpentine.
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Read more about TNBC in my book, Surviving Triple-Negative Breast Cancer.