Chemical Compound Found in Red Wine May Lead to Treatment for Prostate Cancer

Apr 25, 2001
Researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota are theorizing that a chemical compound found in red wine may help reduce the growth of cancer cells in the prostate. This flavonoid compound, called quercetin (KWER-se-ten), could eventually lead to a new approach for treating and preventing the disease, which kills 31,500 American men each year, according to the scientists.

The lead scientist and author of the study, Dr. Nianzeng Xing, presented the study last month at the American Association for Cancer Research convention, held in New Orleans. During his speech, Xing said that, after conducting laboratory studies with cancer cells, his team had concluded "that quercetin has the potential to become a chemopreventative and/or chemotherapeutic agent for prostate cancer."

So far, quercetin treatments have not been tested on human subjects, and its effectiveness is still uncertain. Thus, the researchers did not recommend drinking red wine to prevent prostate cancer. The next step for the quercetin research will be experiments on lab mice, according to Mayo Clinic spokeswoman Mary Lawson.

The scientists' recent work centered around the androgen receptor that regulates some functions of the prostate (a male reproductive gland located directly beneath the bladder). Unfortunately, androgens (a family of male hormones, the most common being testosterone) and the androgen receptor can also assist the development and growth of cancer cells in the prostate.

However, when Dr. Xing's team placed malignant cells from patients with prostate cancer into petri dishes and added quercetin to the mix, the receptor's ability to function was inhibited. Once this happened, the cancer cells stopped growing, leading the researchers to conclude that quercetin may provide an alternative to current treatments for the disease.

Previous studies have documented quercetin's inhibitory effects on other hormones, such as estrogen, and similar tests involving cancer cells from women have indicated that quercetin represses the cells' growth. Quercetin has not been found to produce side effects when ingested, and it occurs naturally in red wine, as well as onions, apples and some kinds of tea. This combination of factors prompted the scientists to examine the compound's potential health benefits.

According to the Mayo study, the current endocrine treatments for prostate cancer utilize methods developed in the 1940s. The methods include reducing the amount of androgen found in the prostate to help halt the progression of cancer cell growth. But Dr. Xing is critical of the end results of this treatment.

"Unfortunately, the cancer returns in about 80 percent of men within one or two years after undergoing the therapy," Dr. Xing said. "The receptor may function with a small amount of androgen. As a result, the cancer learns to grow in the prostate with less hormone. A more effective strategy may be to minimize the amount of the receptor. Our study suggests quercetin may be a potential approach to accomplishing that goal."

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Read more about the potential health benefits of wine:

  • April 20, 2001
    Drinking Wine After a Heart Attack May Help Prevent Another, Study Finds

  • Jan. 9, 2001
    Wine Consumption Linked to Lower Risk of Strokes in Women, Finds CDC Study

  • July 25, 2000
    Harvard Study Examines the Role of Moderate Wine Consumption in Women's Diets

  • June 30, 2000
    Scientists Uncover Why Resveratrol May Help Prevent Cancer

  • May 22, 2000
    Moderate Drinking May Lower Men's Risk of Diabetes, Study Finds

  • May 17, 2000
    European Study Links Wine Drinking to Lower Risk of Brain Deterioration in Elderly

  • May 12, 2000
    Wine May Increase Bone Mass in Elderly Women, Study Finds

  • Feb. 4, 2000
    Dietary Guidelines Committee Revises Recommendations on Alcohol
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