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Breast cancer and red wine

Breast cancer and lung cancer are the two leading causes of cancer related death in Australian women. One in nine women will be diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 85 and every day 36 women in Australia are diagnosed with breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Australian women, accounting for 28 per cent of all cancer diagnose. By 2015 the number of new breast cancer cases among women is projected to be 22 per cent higher than in 2006, with an estimated 15,409 women expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Obviously breast cancer is a major factor in the life of women and anything to reduce the risk of it occurring is good news, especially when that “anything” is as pleasant as a glass of red wine.

It is clear from the research that in general alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer. This is because it increases oestrogen levels and oestrogen promotes the growth of breast cancer cells. Red wine of course, is suggested to have many health benefits largely because of its antioxidant content and novel compounds like resveratrol. So these researchers wanted to see if red wine might be an exception to the alcohol rule.

For the study premenopausal females were randomly divided into two groups: the red wine group (Cabernet Sauvignon) and the white wine group (Chardonnay). For one month, they drank 240ml of their designated wine every evening. To put that in perspective, the standard wine glass contains 150ml and depending on the alcohol content of the wine that equates to 1.4 to 1.6 standard drinks.

During the second month of the study they swapped groups, so that the women on white wine during the first month switched to red wine during the second month. Blood was collected from each participant four times, twice each month, to check for levels of hormones.

The researchers were looking to find out the ingredients of red wine that might imitate what substances called “aromatase inhibitors” do. Aromatase inhibitors are drugs that inhibit aromatase, an enzyme which is involved in oestrogen levels. Aromatase inhibitors are used in breast cancer therapy.

They results showed that red wine lowers oestrogen levels, which in turn should reduce cancer cell growth. Test tube studies indicated the same thing.

White wine did not seem to have the same effect which suggests that it is the red pigments in the skin of the grapes that offer the benefit. It also suggests that you do not need to have red wine to get the benefits but that eating red grapes would offer similar benefits. However, if you do have a drink a night as the researchers say, switching to red wine would be a good idea. It’s not a cure but as the researchers said, switching may shift your risk.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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