Contact: Michael Torres
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Acetaldehyde in alcohol -- no longer just the chemical that causes a hangover
New evidence points to an overlooked risk factor for cancer
evidence by researchers at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
(CAMH) and researchers in Germany shows that drinking alcohol is the
greatest risk factor for acetaldehyde-related cancer. Heavy drinkers
may be at increased risk due to exposure from multiple sources.
is ubiquitous in daily life in Ontario. Widely present in the
environment, it is inhaled from the air and tobacco smoke, ingested
from alcohol and foods, and produced in the human body during the
metabolism of alcoholic beverages. Research indicates that this organic
chemical plays a significant role in the development of certain types
of cancers (especially of the upper digestive tract), and it is
currently classified as possibly carcinogenic by the International
Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization. New
research from CAMH in Toronto and the Chemical and Veterinary
Investigation Laboratory Karlsruhe (CVUA) in Germany recently provided
the necessary methodology for calculating the risk for the ingestion of
The team found that risk from ingesting
acetaldehyde via alcoholic beverages alone may exceed usual safety
limits for heavy drinkers. Their risk assessment study found that the
average exposure to acetaldehyde from alcoholic beverages resulted in a
life-time cancer risk of 7.6/10,000, with higher risk scenarios (e.g.
contaminations in unrecorded alcohol) in the range of 1 in 1,000. As
such, the life-time cancer risks for acetaldehyde from ingestion of
alcoholic beverages greatly exceed the usual limits for cancer risks
from the environment.
The research team noted, however, that
this risk is compounded by the addition of acetaldehyde exposure from
different sources. "The problem with acetaldehyde has been that
although it has been recognized as toxic by Health Canada some years
ago, most risk assessments to date were based on one source of exposure
only" explained Dr. Jürgen Rehm, the lead scientist of the Toronto
group and head of the Public Health and Regulatory Policies section at
CAMH. "This has led to a negligence of the overall risk."
example, in Toronto, even though there are limits for air exposure of
acetaldehyde set by the responsible Public Health agency, these limits
have been surpassed in the past. Alone, the risks associated with
surpassing limits of acetaldehyde from the air may not yet be alarming,
but for heavy drinkers and smokers, it adds to the acetaldehyde levels
already received from these sources. This overall risk then surpasses
established safety limits.
"Their risk assessment of
acetaldehyde present as a congener in alcoholic beverages touches the
tip of the iceberg," according to a Commentary on the CAMH/CVUA study
in the journal
Based on their study the scientists of CAMH recommend:
- That the classification of acetaldehyde with respect to
cancer be re-examined, incorporating new evidence which points to an
additional cancer risk to humans.
- That a further risk assessment should take into consideration all sources of exposure from this substance.
- That the risk for cancer stemming from acetaldehyde from
alcoholic beverages is recognized, and necessary preventive steps are
taken to reduce the acetaldehyde content in alcoholic beverages.
- That the overall level of acetaldehyde exposure be minimized to the lowest level technically possible.
To arrange interviews please contact Michael Torres, Media Relations, CAMH at (416) 595-6015.
For a full text copy of the article please contact Molly Jarvis, Editorial Manager: Marketing & Liaison, Addiction. Email [email protected], telephone +44 (0)20 7848 0014
D.W., Kanteres, F., Rehm, J. Carcinogenicity of acetaldehyde in
alcoholic beverages: risk assessment outside ethanol metabolism.
Addiction 2009; 104: 533 - 550
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada's largest
mental health and addiction teaching hospital, as well as one of the
world's leading research centres in the area of addiction and mental
health. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy
development and health promotion to transform the lives of people
affected by mental health and addiction issues.
CAMH is fully
affiliated with the University of Toronto, and is a Pan American Health
Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre.
is a monthly scientific journal, read in over sixty countries and
publishing more than 2000 pages every year. Owned by the Society for
the Study of Addiction, it has been in continuous publication since
1884. Addiction publishes peer-reviewed research reports on alcohol,
illicit drugs and tobacco, bringing together research conducted within
many different disciplines, as well as editorials and other debate