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Red Wine May Cut Prostate Cancer Risk in Half, Study Finds

White wine also showed benefits for prostate health, but beer and liquor did not.

Jacob Gaffney
Posted: September 30, 2004

Men who drink a glass or two of red wine per day may be cutting their risk of prostate cancer in half, according to new research published online in The International Journal of Cancer. And wine lovers fare better than men who drink mainly beer or liquor, which do not appear to provide the same protective benefits, the study reported.

"We found that men who consumed four or more glasses of red wine per week reduced their risk of prostate cancer by [around] 50 percent," said lead author Janet Stanford, who conducted the study with colleagues from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

According to the authors, previous studies on how alcohol consumption affects prostate cancer provided conflicting results. Stanford said the team was particularly interested in determining whether red wine, which has high concentrations of polyphenols, had a greater effect than beer and spirits, which are low in polyphenols. These naturally occurring compounds have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and may have the potential to prevent cancer. Resveratrol, for example, is found abundantly in grapes and red wine, and recent studies have shown that the polyphenol may help reduce the growth of skin melanomas and kill breast cancer cells.

The researchers analyzed data gathered in the 1990s from 753 newly diagnosed prostate cancer patients, ages 40 to 64, who lived in the Seattle area. Of the patients, 498 had "less aggressive" tumors, while the other 255 had "more aggressive" tumors. For a control group, the researchers used 703 cancer-free men of the same ages.

All the volunteers filled out questionnaires on their diets and were interviewed about their drinking patterns, smoking habits, family history of cancer, income levels, number of sexual partners over their lifetime and other lifestyle factors. (One drink was defined as equaling 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of spirits.)

Subjects who consumed less than one drink per week were grouped with nondrinkers. The others were categorized by their weekly intake -- light (one to seven drinks), moderate (eight to 14) or heavy (15 or more) drinkers -- and by the type of beverage they preferred.

After adjusting for all factors, the researchers found that beer and liquor drinkers' risk for prostate cancer was similar to that of nondrinkers at low and moderate levels of consumption. (Heavy liquor drinkers were the exception, showing a 42 percent increase in risk.)

Wine, however, showed a protective effect against prostate cancer, even at lower levels of consumption. Light drinkers had a 27 percent lower risk of developing prostate cancer, while heavy drinkers showed a 37 percent lower risk. Moderate wine drinkers benefited the most, with a 44 percent lower risk.

Additionally, the scientists broke down the results to see if red wine, which is richer in polyphenols, imparted a greater benefit than white wine. The wine drinkers, who were split fairly evenly in their preference for red or white, were recategorized by their weekly consumption -- one to three glasses, four to seven and eight or more -- because there were fewer men in the higher intake categories, Stanford said.

While moderate consumption of red wine showed a lower risk of both aggressive and less aggressive types of prostate cancer, Stanford said, there were no consistent patterns of risk associated with white wine.

"Among men who consumed four or more 4-ounce glasses of red wine per week, we saw about a 60 percent lower incidence of the more aggressive types of prostate cancer," Stanford said.

In comparison, white wine drinkers who had four to seven glasses per week showed a 36 percent lower risk than nondrinkers for the more aggressive cancers. But those who consumed eight or more glasses of white wine per week had an 18 percent greater risk, although the number of volunteers in this category may have been too small to obtain accurate data that applies to a larger population, Stanford said.

In terms of developing less aggressive types of prostate cancer, the red wine drinkers had a 13 percent lower risk among those who drank four to seven glasses per week and a 32 percent lower risk among those who drank eight or more glasses. White wine drinkers, in contrast, had a 23 percent or 24 percent greater risk than nondrinkers, depending on their consumption level.

Stanford noted that some of the variation in the results for the white wine drinkers may be due to the small number of participants in certain categories.

The study should not be used as an excuse to increase one's drinking "given the risks associated with heavy consumption, from increased overall cancer risk to accidental injury and social problems," Stanford said.

But she added, "For men who already are consuming alcohol, I think the results of this study suggest that modest consumption of red wine, four to eight 4-ounce drinks per week, is the level at which you might receive benefit."

# # #

For a comprehensive look at the potential health benefits of drinking wine, check out senior editor Per-Henrik Mansson's feature Eat Well, Drink Wisely, Live Longer: The Science Behind A Healthy Life With Wine

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