A state-of-the-science review of alcoholic beverages and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

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King, Liam
Aplin, Rebekah
Gill, Chris G.
Naimi, Timothy
Background: The association between alcohol and certain cancers is well established, yet beyond ethanol and its metabolite acetaldehyde, little is known about the presence of other carcinogenic compounds in alcoholic beverages, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), such as benzo[a]pyrene (a Group I carcinogen). Objectives: We summarized the published literature on PAH levels in alcoholic beverages to identify potential gaps in knowledge to inform future research. Methods: Medline and Scopus were searched for primary research published from January 1966 to November 2023 that quantified PAH levels among various types of alcoholic beverages, including whisky, rum, brandy, gin, vodka, wine, and beer. Studies that were not primary literature were excluded; only studies that quantified PAH content in the specified alcoholic beverages were included. Results: Ten studies published from 1966 to 2019 met the criteria for review. Other than beverage type, no publication reported selection criteria for their samples of tested alcohol products. Studies used a variety of analytical methods to detect PAHs. Of the 10 studies, 7 were published after 2000, and 6 assessed products. Of the studies, 7 examined spirits; 3, beer; and 4, wines. Benzo[a]pyrene was most prevalent among spirit products, particularly whisky, with values generally exceeding acceptable levels for drinking water. Some beer and wine products also contained PAHs, albeit at lower levels and less frequently than spirit products. Discussion: PAHs are found in some alcohol products and appear to vary by beverage type. However, there is an incomplete understanding of their presence and levels among large, representative samples from the range of currently available alcohol products. Addressing this gap could improve understanding of alcohol–cancer relationships and may have important implications for public health and the regulation of alcohol products. In addition, novel methods, such as direct mass spectroscopy, may facilitate more thorough testing of samples to further investigate this relationship.
This article was originally published as: King, L., Aplin, R., Gill, C., & Naimi, T. (2024). A state-of-the-science review of alcoholic beverages and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Environmental Health Perspectives, 132(1), 016001-1-016001-6, https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP13506
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