Prevent breast cancer: drink red wine

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
breast cancer, red wine, pink ribbon, alcohol, cancer prevention
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LOS ANGELES, CA - Alcohol consumption is a controversial issue. Most would agree that excessive alcohol intake is harmful; however, moderate alcohol consumption has mixed reviews. Some studies show that moderate consumption might offer some health benefits, especially for the cardiovascular system; other studies show an increased risk for certain cancers with moderate alcohol consumption. For example, a large study comprised of 87,724 postmenopausal women in the fall of 2010 reported that the risk of hormone-sensitive breast cancers increased in proportion to the amount of alcohol consumed per week; women who drank seven or more alcohol beverages had twice the risk of developing breast cancer, compared to never-drinkers.

Countering those gloomy statistics, a new study reported that the consumption of red wine might offer some degree of protection against breast cancer. The results of the study were published online on December 7 in the Journal of Women's Health.

Researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, reported that, in healthy premenopausal women, red wine is associated with significantly more free testosterone and less sex-hormone-binding globulin than white wine. Furthermore, luteinizing hormone was significantly higher with red wine than with white wine. Follicle-stimulating hormone levels were also higher with red wine’ however, the difference was not statistically significant.

The authors noted that their findings suggest that red wine acts as a nutritional aromatase inhibitor (AI), which might explain why drinking red wine does not appear to increase the risk for breast cancer. They also noted that further research is indicated. Study coauthor Glenn Braunstein, MD, explained, "A large prospective study looking at hormones, other biomarkers, and breast density as a surrogate for breast cancer risk would be reasonable." Dr. Braunstein is vice president for clinical innovation and the James R. Klinenberg, MD, Chair in Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He noted, "A true breast cancer 'prevention' trial would have to have a very large number of women followed for a long period. Also, we do not want women who do not currently drink to start drinking."

At the present, both Dr. Braunstein and Dr. Bevers feel that red wine is the better option for women who currently consume alcoholic beverages. "For those who consume wine, I would suggest red wine," said Dr. Braunstein. "For those who drink other alcoholic drinks, I would suggest switching to red wine. For those who don't drink, don't start — just eat grapes."

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The researchers noted in their study that naturally occurring AIs have been identified in grapes, grape juice, grape seed extract, and red wine; however, they are not present in white wine. The AI activity observed in red wine has been attributed to the phytochemicals, not the alcohol content. The investigators noted that AIs play an important role in the management of estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer in postmenopausal women; however, their role in premenopausal women is currently being evaluated. These substances prevent the conversion of androstenedione and testosterone to estrogen; thus, they cause an increased serum testosterone level and decreased levels of estradiol, estrone, and sex-hormone-binding globulin.

A limitation of this study was its small size. The study group was comprised of 36 premenopausal women were assigned to 8 ounces (237 mL) daily of red wine or white wine in the first cycle, and the other wine for the second cycle. Blood samples were collected twice during their menstrual cycles for hormone measurement.

The authors wrote: "To our knowledge, this is the first report of a controlled clinical trial testing the hypothesis that red wine is a nutritional AI in healthy premenopausal women. These results combined with prior observational and laboratory data suggest that red wine may serve as a nutritional AI, which may ameliorate the elevated breast cancer risk associated with alcohol intake."

Reference: Journal of Women’s Health

See Also:
Should you tell your children they have increased cancer risk?
Federal task force takes heat over cancer screening advice

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