Red Wine and Cancer Prevention: Fact Sheet
Red wine is a rich source of biologically active phytochemicals, chemicals found in plants. Particular compounds called polyphenols found in red wine-such as catechins and resveratrol-are thought to have anti oxidant or anti cancer properties.
Research on the antioxidants found in red wine has shown that they may help inhibit the development of certain cancers. The alcohol produced by the fermentation process dissolves the polyphenols contained in the seeds and skin of the grape. Polyphenols have been found to have antioxidant properties, properties that protect cells from damage caused by freeradicals which can damage important parts of cells. Cellular damage has been implicated in the development of cancer. Research on the antioxidants found in red wine, which is made on the skins of the grapes, has shown that they may help inhibit the development of certain cancers.
Resveratrol has been shown to reduce tumor incidence in animals by affecting one or more stages of cancer development. It has been shown to inhibit growth of many types of cancer cells in culture. Resveratrol is a type of polyphenol called a phytoalexin, a class of compounds produced as part of a plant's defense system against disease. Red wine contains high levels of resveratrol which has been shown to reduce tumor incidence in animals and to inhibit the growth of many types of cancer cells. Evidence exists that red wine can reduce inflammation.
Recent evidence from animal studies suggests this anti-inflammatory compound, resveratrol, may be an effective chemopreventive agent in three stages of the cancer process: initiation, promotion and progression. Cell and animal studies of red wine have examined the effects in cancers including leukemia, skin, breast and prostate. These studies suggest reservatrol is an anti-inflammatory compound and may be an effective chemopreventive agent in three stages – initiation, promotion, progression – in the cancer process. Studies published in the International Journal of Cancer show that drinking a glass of red wine a day may cut a man’s risk of prostate cancer by 50% and that the protective effect appears to be strongest against the most aggressive forms of the disease. Men who consumed 4 or more 4-oz glasses of red wine per week reduced the incidence by 60%.
Two Studies Look to Red Wine for Breast Cancer Prevention. Another study, however, finds drinking raises the risk.
In one study scientists theorize that alcohol affects the levels of hormones such as estrogen and progesterone in postmenopausal women, which may trigger breast cells to become cancerous. The study was presented by a Univ of Chicago fourth year med student and researcher at the American Association for Cancer Research, Jasmine Lew. According to Lew, the research found that women who drink between one and three drinks a day had a 24 percent increased risk of breast cancer compared to nondrinkers. If they drank more than three, this risk raised to 36 percent. If the women preferred wine, one to three servings meant a 20 percent greater risk and more than three equalled a 41 percent greater risk than nondrinking postmenopausal women.
In another observation study conducted by Institut Universitaire de Recherche Clinique in Montpellier, France, also identified alcohol as a risk factor for breast cancer. However, after examining a population of women living in the south of France, "where drinking wine is an integral part of the population’s dietary habits," researchers found that one glass of wine per day was associated with a 40 percent lower risk of breast cancer. More than a glass evened the risk out to the same levels as nondrinkers.
Scientists are also examining the relationship between cancer and wine in the laboratory. A team from the University of Nebraska has looked at the red wine chemical resveratrol as a potential anti-breast cancer agent and found positive results, according to a report published in the July 2008 issue of Cancer Prevention Research. They found that resveratrol suppresses the metabolism of estrogen, thereby protecting cells from becoming cancerous, in one of many anti-breast cancer activities the red wine chemical exhibits. "Resveratrol has the ability to prevent the first step that occurs when estrogen starts the process that leads to cancer by blocking the formation of the estrogen DNA adducts," explains co-author Eleanor Rogan, a cancer researcher at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. "We believe that this could stop the whole progression that leads to breast cancer down the road."
Dr. Curtis Ellison, a professor of medicine and public health at Boston University Medical School, said data increasingly shows that for women who do not binge drink, have adequate folate intake, and are not on hormone-replacement treatment, the risk of breast cancer appears to increase only for consumers of more than one and half drinks per day, about 6 to 7 ounces. Ellison admitted that there may be a weak association for a slight increase in breast cancer risk among light drinkers, but added that, for women, responsible wine drinking is not without benefits. "The net effects are striking, as small amounts of alcohol lower the risk of the more-common causes of death among women, such as heart disease, stroke, hip fracture and dementia," he said.