Acetaldehyde is found in the air, tobacco smoke, alcohol, many foods, and is produced in the metabolism of alcoholic beverages. Scientists have discovered it plays a role in some cancers, especially those of the upper digestive tract. It’s been classified as carcinogenic by the World Health Organization.
The recent study was performed by members of the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto and the Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Laboratory Karlsruhe in Germany.
The researchers found that heavy drinkers surpass safe levels of acetaldehyde ingestion just from alcohol sources alone. The lifetime risk assessment for such people contracting cancer was calculated at 7.6/10,000 to as much as 10/10,000. This is far higher than other environmental cancer risks. And this risk is worsened, the team determined, by exposure to acetaldehyde from its many other environmental 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,” said Jurgen 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.”
The CAMH researchers recommended 1) that acetaldehyde’s cancer risk be re-examined, taking into account the chemical’s new-found riskiness; 2) that risk should be recalculated to include the many sources of exposure to the substance; 3) that alcoholic beverages’ acetaldehyde cancer risk be recognized, and that action be initiated to lower the acetaldehyde content in those beverages; and 4) that action be taken to minimize overall acetaldehyde exposure to the lowest level possible.