Red Wine and Cancer

friends toasting with red wine after the harvesting
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Could the occasional glass of wine prevent cancer? Some experts propose that red wines are rich in phytochemicals such as resveratrol which act as antioxidants and could have effects that work to prevent cancer. As much as red wine lovers may wish this to be proven beyond a doubt, in fact, the research studies are still inconclusive and we don't know that it has preventative effects in humans.

Red vs White Wine and Anti-Cancer Properties

Red wine is thought to have more anti-cancer properties because the skin of the grape is maintained during the winemaking process. When white wine is being made, the skin is removed before the grapes are crushed. The skin of grapes contains antioxidant-rich phytochemicals, the part of the grape thought to reduce your cancer risk. These include resveratrol, a substance that protects plants from bacteria and fungi. In the lab, it has the potential for injuring tumor cells and making them more sensitive treatment.

Isn't This the Same as Eating a Bunch of Grapes?

Yes and no. While the skins and seeds of the grape are where the phytochemicals are contained, it is the alcohol in the fermentation process that actually breaks down the phytochemicals.

Should You Drink Large Amounts of Red Wine?

Absolutely not. Studies concerning the effects of red wine against cancer are still in the preliminary stages. In fact, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is linked to many types of cancer. Moderation is key to reaping the benefits of consuming wine.

Experts recommend two servings a day for men and one serving a day for women of red wine for health benefits. Each serving is 4 ounces. If you do not currently drink alcohol or are on medication, please talk to your doctor about the benefits of red wine in your diet. You should never begin drinking alcohol for medicinal purposes without talking to your doctor first.

All Red Wines Are Not Created Equal

Many different varieties of red wines are available and some are richer in phytochemicals than others. A study conducted at UC Davis found cabernet sauvignon to be the richest in flavonoids. Petit Syrah and pinot noir were also high in flavonoids.

The Scientific Evidence Isn't Here Yet

The National Cancer Institute notes that as of 2013, clinical trials of the effects of resveratrol on humans haven't shown it is effective in preventing or treating cancer. Epidemiological studies that ask people whether they drink red wine and track their incidence of cancer have not yet been reported to see a protective effect.

The National Cancer Institute notes that lab studies using cells and proteins outside of the body, as well as animal experiments, have shown some anticancer properties for resveratrol, although wine is not the only source. You can also find it in grapes, raspberries, and peanuts, among other things. Meanwhile, clinical trials with real, live humans haven't produced evidence that it prevents cancer or is useful in treating cancer.

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Article Sources

  • National Cancer Institute. "Alcohol and Cancer Risk."

  • Sangeeta Shrotriya, Rajesh Agarwal, Robert A. Sclafani. "A Perspective on Chemoprevention by Resveratrol in Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma." Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, December 2014 DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-09614-8_19.

  • Smoliga JM, Baur JA, Hausenblas HA. "Resveratrol and health--a comprehensive review of human clinical trials." Mol Nutr Food Res. 2011 Aug;55(8):1129-41. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201100143. Epub 2011 Jun 20.

  • National Cancer Institute. Red Wine and Cancer Prevention Fact Sheet. November 27, 2002.