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Red Wine Does Not Appear to Raise Breast Cancer Risk

New study finds compounds in red wine might make it a better choice than white

Jacob Gaffney
Posted: January 3, 2012

For several years now, scientists have warned that there is a link between alcohol and breast cancer. What's less clear, however, is whether the type of alcohol matters. Now researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the University of Southern California say substances in red wine may set it apart. They found that drinking red wine in moderation appears to counter the risks associated with alcohol. Dr. Glenn Braunstein, one of the study's authors, tells Wine Spectator that women who drink white wine may want to consider switching to red.

Alcohol consumption has been consistently linked to a heightened risk of breast cancer in women. Scientists believe alcohol inhibits breast cancer tumor suppression in women with certain genes. Breast cancer can occur when the conversion of the hormone androgen into estrogen goes unchecked in the body. Substances called aromatase inhibitors are believed to ameliorate this process.

Aromatase inhibitors occur naturally in grape skins. Cedars-Sinai researchers wanted to test if aromatase inhibitors have an impact with red wine consumption, but not white, since red wine absorbs many compounds during maceration on the skins. "It was a hypothesis that wasn’t proven by the study," said Dr. Braunstein, "but [the evidence] is supportive of red wine having a positive effect on the hormonal milieu, making it less conducive to stimulating growth of breast cancer cells." The results of the study will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Women's Health.

Braunstein and his team provided 8 ounces of red wine daily to 36 women and 8 ounces of white to another 36. After one month, the scientists reversed the servings. Blood was collected twice during the women's menstrual cycle to measure hormone levels.

When women were drinking red wine, the study reports, hormone levels were at much more favorable levels. "These data suggest that red wine is an aromatase inhibitor and may explain the observation that red wine does not appear to increase breast cancer risk," the study concludes. Braunstein added that the results don't mean white wine consumption increases the risk of breast cancer, but rather it may lack the same protective ingredients found in red.

Jason Caplan
Toronto, Ontario, Canada —  January 4, 2012 7:14pm ET
Read this with enthusian as a physician.

Disturbing advice from an insignificant study. A 4 week cross over study, spot checking hormone levels does not justify any comments of safety in regards to long term risk of breast cancer and consumption of red wine.

A brief fluctuation of hormone levels cannot be extrapolated, and interpreted, as has been in the article. Multiple long term studies show increased risk of breast cancer with increasing amounts of alcohol. Moderation is strongly advised.

It is not known if red wine has some protective property, perhaps from resveratrol or other compounds... a proper long term epidemiological study is required before such advice can actually be given.

Don't get me wrong, I love red wine... however, women should not be given unjustified approval and security to increase red wine comsumption without proper justification.

Until that day, Cancer advisory panels recommend lower comsumption.
Leonard Presutti C W E
boston, ma, usa —  January 5, 2012 1:32pm ET
Dr. Caplan- Would it be possible for you to share the specific studies associated with the lower consumption recommendations?
Patricia Jewelle
St. Paul, MN USA —  January 5, 2012 4:24pm ET
Dr. Caplan - I understand your concerns around the findings, but the article does NOT encourage women to increase their red wine consumption. We are not all morons and most people know that lower consumption of any form of alchol is the healthiest choice.
Jason Caplan
Toronto, Ontario, Canada —  January 8, 2012 7:11pm ET
Leonard, you can search the net to find numerous studies recommending different "safe" weekly consupmtions for both women and men. As to which guide one might choose to follow is a personal choice and based on other risk factors, family history and lifestyle choices.

Patricia, I didn't infer that anyone was a "moron", but rather that the headline caption suggesting red wine is safe in regards to breast cancer, will lead some to increase intake. Possibly, and most concerningly, in women with a strong family history of breast cancer.

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