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Chemicals in Red Wine May Slow Tumor Growth

Researchers find that polyphenols in grapes inhibit cancer cell development

Posted: October 27, 2008

Polyphenols, a family of antioxidative compounds found in high concentrations in grapes and red wine, may help stop the growth of cancerous tumors, according to a recent study by the University of Guelph in Ontario.

For the research, published in the October issue of Nutrition Research, the Guelph scientists injected mice with breast cancer cells. Some of the mice were then fed polyphenols extracted from Merlot grapes or wine, every three days for 33 days. The scientists then examined the tumors.

They found that tumors in the mice fed polyphenols had grown much less, if at all. The mice that ingested polyphenols from actual Merlot grapes showed almost no signs of tumor growth, according to Gopi Paliyath, associate professor at Guelph. Grapes have a higher concentration of the compounds than finished red wine. The mice that ingested the polyphenols from the wine had a decrease in tumor growth rate of about 50 percent, compared to the control group.

Paliyath and his team theorized that polyphenols may help fight cancer by helping eliminate toxins from the body. Hormones can cause the buildup of toxic elements. Certain enzymes are designed to eliminate the toxic effect of hormones and a diet high in polyphenols may help the enzymes function more efficiently.

Previous research has shown polyphenols' positive effects. One recent study suggested that polyphenols found in red wine may help decrease the risk of lung cancer. Other studies have suggested they can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol. White wine also has some benefits, though most polyphenols are found in the grape skins, giving red wine a higher concentration.

Overall, a glass or two per day could be beneficial to health, according to Paliyath, but he does not condone excessive drinking, which may lead to other health problems. "Ideally, it's important to start with a healthy diet, including fruits and vegetables from an early age," said Paliyath. Red wine is a good source of polyphenols, but these antioxidants are also found in fruits, vegetables, chocolate, grains and tea.

"Most recommendations are for not more than one to two glasses of red wine per day," he said. "The alcohol in the wine will be beneficial to cardiovascular health, so a balanced approach is needed based on genetics, family history, lifestyle."

If funding allows, Paliyath and his team would like to study other grape varieties, like Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, since each has a different polyphenolic composition. Additional studies will also measure the polyphenolic affects on different forms of cancer, neurodegenerative and other diseases.

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