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With Red Wine and Breast Cancer - Play It Safe

By January 9, 2012

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Wine, Glass, and Bottle
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Before you stock up on Cabernet Sauvignon - red wine that was used in a study about breast cancer risk - sit down and think it over. The study, published in the Journal of Women's Health, was based on a group of just 36 women. These gals were healthy premenopausal women, not pregnant or breastfeeding, not alcoholics, not taking any hormone therapies of any kind, had never had estrogen-fueled cancers, and none had any chronic health conditions. These women also had a healthy body mass index (BMI) which tells us that they were not overweight. All had healthy, regular menstrual cycles, and healthy livers. This is a small study, done with a very select group of subjects, all of them living in fitness-conscious California. I'm saying these women were not your average American moms on a fast-food diet with a beer chaser, a stockpile of ice cream, some excess weight on their frames and a prescription for birth-control pills.

The study aimed to find out if red wines were more effective at lowering the risk of estrogen-dependent breast tumors than white wines. This is controversial because many studies show that alcohol consumption boosts your risk for breast and other cancers, while some components of red wine may act as natural aromatase inhibitors (AIs). White wines don't have the same effect - they don't contain the same phytochemicals and isoflavones that are found in red wines. However, both wines used in this study did contain alcohol, which can degrade your health. This poses quite a difficult set of trade-offs for those who like a glass of red wine with supper.

Most breast tumors, especially in young women, are fueled by female hormones. Alcohol tends to boost levels of estrogens in your bloodstream - a habit which can be as bad for your health as a daily pack of cigarettes or more than 5 years of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). So what can you do? Get the benefits of the phytochemicals and isoflavones from red wine by using unfermented grape juice, taking resveratrol supplemets,or eating red grapes. If you really want a glass of wine with your meals, find a good-quality alcohol-free red wine and keep it on hand. It just might help you keep a New Year's Resolution, and it could boost your health!

Red Versus White Wine as a Nutritional Aromatase Inhibitor in Premenopausal Women. Chrisandra Shufelt, M.D., M.S., C. Noel Bairey Merz, M.D., YuChing Yang, Ph.D., Joan Kirschner, M.S.N., N.P., Donna Polk, M.D., Frank Stanczyk, Ph.D., Maura Paul-Labrador, M.P.H., and Glenn D. Braunstein, M.D. Journal of Women's Health, Volume 00, Number 00, 2011.

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January 10, 2012 at 10:44 am
(1) Chad says:

Thanks for your excellent comments! I like your common-sense advice for avoiding alcohol to reduce risk of breast cancer.

January 10, 2012 at 11:11 am
(2) Dr. Baxter says:

This is a complicated subject and widely misunderstood. What is known is that regular consumers of wine in moderation live longer, have higher mental function with age, less osteoporosis, and of course less heart disease, which is by far the largest cause of mortality in women. Despite the large scale of the studies showing alcohol increases risk of breast cancer in even small amounts, it is highly debatable as to whether wine consumption does. That is because studies are retrospective and rely on self-reporting of drinking, which is known to be unreliable. Studies from southern France, where there are populations who have a consistent pattern of drinking mostly red wine on a daily basis, show much lower rates of breast cancer. American women on the other hand tend to have mixed drinking patterns, so the specific role of wine cannot be accurately determined. There is little evidence suggesting that supplements or grape juice offer the same benefits as wine.

January 10, 2012 at 7:37 pm
(3) Fred Swan says:

I’m glad that you (Pam) have said something about this.

The stories touting research suggesting “health benefits” of red wine consumption come out at least weekly. However, as you suggest with regard to this trial, few (if any) are broad-based studies that sufficiently isolate red wine drinking from other lifestyle factors. The stories that leap from resveratrol studies to red wine consumption are even more dubious because many of the positive resveratrol results come from doses much higher than one could safely attain through consumption of red wine. And, of course, the latter studies don’t touch on the potentially harmful effects of immoderate alcohol consumption.

January 11, 2012 at 1:34 pm
(4) kathy simone says:

Thank you Dr Baxter for your comments. I agree and feel we should be far more focused on genetically modified food and lack of exercise, obesity and stress.

I really don’t believe a glass of alcohol-free wine (grape juice?) is going to make a wine lover satisfied. Balance is key and eliminating estrogen stimulating foods from a diet must be measured against quality of life and healthy skepticism towards these weekly studies the media releases.

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