New research done in Spain has found that drinking red wine may reduce one's risk of lung cancer, and rosé wines might provide a small benefit in avoiding the disease. White wine, however, was linked to a higher risk of lung cancer, and beer and spirits showed no benefits, according to the study, which was published in the November issue of Thorax.
"Our study indicates that the results tend to depend, to an important degree, on the particular type of wine drunk, with red appearing to offer some protection and white wine having no such effect," the authors wrote.
Previous studies on alcohol consumption's effect on lung cancer have yielded contradictory results, with some researchers finding that drinking is linked to a lower risk or a higher risk or has no effect. Few earlier studies measured the different types of alcohol separately, said the current study's authors, who believed the distinction between red and white wine could be important because red wine contains higher levels of "potentially antioxidant and anticarcinogenic substances such as tannins and resveratrol."
Recent studies have shown that resveratrol may help reduce the growth of skin melanomas, kill breast cancer cells, lower cholesterol levels and improve cardiovascular health.
The researchers recruited 282 patients at the Santiago de Compostela Hospital in northwest Spain, where all cases of lung cancer in the district are diagnosed. Nearly 90 percent of the volunteers were male and between the ages of 50 and 70. Of the participants, 118 were lung cancer patients; the other 164, who were at the hospital for noncancer-related ailments, served as the control group.
During interviews between 1999 and 2000, the researchers gathered information on the participants' smoking and drinking habits, as well as other lifestyle factors, such as diet and their workplace exposure to secondhand smoke.
Subjects were categorized as either nondrinkers, primarily white wine drinkers, primarily red wine drinkers, primarily rosé drinkers, primarily beer drinkers or primarily spirits drinkers. (The volunteers were chosen on the basis of their drinking habits; patients who "indiscriminately" drank all types of alcoholic beverages were excluded from the study.)
Most of the wine drinkers consumed an average of three to four glasses per day. The lowest consumption level for all of the wine drinkers was two glasses per day. The highest levels reported were six glasses per day among red and white drinkers and 10 glasses among the rosé drinkers, though very few people drank that much. Beer drinkers reported consuming up to four servings per day, and spirits drinkers up to two servings per day. (While serving size was not distinctly defined in this study, a typical glass of wine is 4 to 6 ounces, a beer is 8 to 12 ounces and a shot of spirits is 1 to 2 ounces.)
The scientists compared the lung cancer patients' drinking habits with the control group, adjusted for all factors and, using a risk-per-drink algorithm, determined the median amount of risk associated with each serving of alcohol, by beverage type.
Compared with nondrinkers, red wine drinkers' risk for lung cancer decreased 13 percent with each glass of wine they consumed per day. The risk for rosé drinkers decreased 3 percent with each daily glass. (A 3 percent difference is not considered statistically significant, the authors noted.)
In contrast, white wine drinkers showed a 20 percent greater risk with each glass consumed. "However, it should be noted that the number of subjects who drank white wine was far smaller than those who drank red wine," the authors wrote, and that could have skewed the results.
Beer drinkers showed a risk level similar to that of nondrinkers, while spirits drinkers showed a 3 percent greater risk for each glass consumed per day.
The findings do not mean that if you drink increasingly greater amounts of red wine, you would continue to reduce your risk even more. The study did not investigate the effects of light, moderate and heavy wine consumption compared with each other, and co-author Alberto Ruano Raviña noted that drinking heavily causes other health problems.
The results do back up earlier studies that found that red wine and/or resveratrol may benefit lung health by reducing inflammation caused by smoking, alleviating certain lung diseases, such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and killing a bacteria responsible for pneumonia and other lung infections. However, the findings on white wine contradict an earlier study that found that drinking wine, particularly white wine, was linked to good overall lung health.
"White wine was not protective in our study, maybe because its composition is different than red wine," Ruano Raviña said. On the other hand, he said, red wine may have been linked to health benefits because it "has substances that are thought to pose a protective effect, [such as] resveratrol, polyphenols, tannins."
Ruano Raviña said that the best ways to avoid lung cancer were to give up smoking or not to start, and that no one should change drinking habits based on the results of this study.
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