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Raise a Glass of Wine For Your Heart, But Not Your Breasts

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Cancer related image Photo: Getty Images

For years, numerous scientific studies have touted the health benefits of red and white wine from reducing heart disease, keeping your lungs and immune system healthy, halting prostate cancer growth and preventing the absorption of cholesterol. So drinking wine is really good for you, right?

Not so fast. The answer to that question depends on your body’s biology, what healthy benefits you are talking about, and just how much wine you consume.

While the consensus over health benefits varies, researchers generally agree low to moderate wine consumption is key (for women, that’s one to five, 5-ounce glasses per week). While no amount of alcohol consumption is without risk, here are some studies to consider.

Breast Cancer Risk
Researchers lead by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle conducted the largest study of its kind to determine if red or white wine had any health benefits for women’s breast cancer risk. The study’s lead author, Polly Newcomb, head of the Center’s cancer prevention program said there was no compelling reason to choose Chianti or Chardonnay.

“Neither appears to have any benefits,” she said. “The general evidence is that alcohol consumption overall increases breast cancer risk.”

The 13,588 study participants were women ages 20 to 69 from Wisconsin, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The researchers found women who consumed 14 or more alcoholic drinks per week (beer, wine or liquor) increased their breast cancer risk by 24 percent compared to non-drinkers. The study, funded by the National Cancer Center, was published in the March 2009 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

Are Wine’s Healthy Benefits linked to Alcohol?
Red wine’s heart healthy benefits have been linked to flavonoids not found in other alcoholic beverages. That got researchers from the University of California Davis thinking: Does the alcohol in red wine enhance the flavonoid benefits?

UC Davis researchers focused on the natural plant-based phenol antioxidant flavonoid catechin, found abundantly in red wine and cacao beans. Catechin has been linked to lowering the risk of stroke, heart failure, cancer and diabetes.

The researchers tested the blood samples of study participants over an eight-hour period after they consumed one moderate glass of de-alcoholized red wine reconstituted with 13 percent alcohol or plain water. The catechin levels rose sharply in both groups during the third hour, but the non-alcohol group maintained the high levels for longer leading the researchers to believe the alcohol contributed no health benefits.

Wine can make tooth stains darker
New York University dental researchers confirmed red and white wine increases the potential for teeth to take on dark stains. "The acids in both wines create rough spots and grooves that enable chemicals in other beverages that cause staining, such as coffee and tea, to penetrate deeper into the tooth," says Dr. Mark Wolff, Professor and Chairman of the NYU College of Dentistry Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Care. When it comes to the darkest stains, Wolff, the study lead, says red wine is the clear winner. The findings were reported at the International Association for Dental Research 2009 annual meeting.

Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Research conducted by the Yale School of Public Health found strong evidence that 76 percent of women who moderately consumed wine prior to being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma had a lower risk of relapse or death from the disease compared with 68 percent of non-wine drinkers, however, drinking beer or liquor showed no benefit.

Lymphoma patients who had the strongest link between wine consumption and favorable outcomes were those with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. These patients reduced their risk of relapse, death or secondary cancer by as much as half.

Lead study author Xuesong Han, who at the time was a Yale doctoral student, said the study conclusion was controversial because it is difficult for most people to determine, “what is moderate alcohol consumption and what is excessive. Excessive alcohol consumption has negative social and health impacts.” The findings were presented at American Association for Cancer Research 100th Annual Meeting in 2009.

Lynette Summerill, an award-winning writer and scuba enthusiast lives in San Diego, CA. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHER, her work has been seen in newspapers and magazines around the world.

Catechin in human plasma after ingestion of a single serving of reconstituted red wine. Bell et al. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;71:103-8. Accessed online at www.ajcn.org/content/71/1/103.full.pdf

White wine can make tooth stains darker. NYU 2009 press release. Accessed online at Eurekalert: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-04/nyu-sww033009.php

No Difference Between Red Wine or White Wine Consumption and Breast Cancer Risk . P. Newcomb et al. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev March 2009 18:1007-1010; doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-08-0801. Accessed online: http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/18/3.toc

Drinking Wine May Increase Survival Among Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Patients. Release accessed at: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090421154322.htm

Reviewed August 2, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Shannon Koehle

Add a Comment1 Comments

The question of wine and breast cancer risk is a complicated one but unfortunately recent large studies don't really add much. The study cited above from the Fred Hutchinson Center in Seattle actually states "Wine consumption was not associated with risk of breast cancer" so that is why there was no difference between red and white - no increased risk either way. In order to definitively know whether red wine raises or lowers risk, you would need to study large populations of women with a very consistent drinking pattern over a long period of time, and in such populations there is a dramatically lower risk for red wine drinkers. References at www.agegetsbetterwithwine.com.

August 3, 2011 - 10:28am
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