NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - In yet more good news for red wine connoisseurs, new research suggests that regular consumption of the beverage may lower the risk of lung cancer. Those who prefer white wine, however, can't expect the same benefit.
Researchers in Spain found that among some 300 adults with and without lung cancer, self-described red-wine drinkers had a 57 percent lower risk of the disease compared with those who never drank wine.
Overall, lung cancer risk declined 13 percent with each daily glass of red wine, according to findings published the November issue of the journal Thorax.
The reason for the link is unclear, but the study authors point to some of the natural compounds in red wine and grapes usually cited as the potential source of the drink's health benefits. One of these is resveratrol, a chemical found in red grapes that lab experiments suggest can interfere with tumor development and growth.
"We think resveratrol could (have) a protective effect against lung cancer and other cancers," said lead author Dr. Alberto Ruano-Ravina of the University of Santiago de Compostela.
But other red wine components, such as plant antioxidants called polyphenols, may also play a role, he told Reuters Health.
With more research, Ruano-Ravina and his colleagues conclude, it might be possible to "identify the components of red wine associated with this possible protective effect and to recommend the consumption of these to smokers."
But the researchers stress that their findings should not be taken as a license to drink away lung cancer risk, as excessive drinking has well-known ill effects.
The best way to prevent lung cancer, Ruano-Ravina said, "is not to smoke, and for smokers to stop immediately."
Regular, moderate red wine consumption has long been suspected as a key reason the French enjoy a low rate of heart disease despite a rich diet. But recent research has also linked red wine to a lower risk of some cancers, and a study reported last year found that resveratrol might offer protection from the lung diseases emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Compared with white wine, the red variety has greater concentrations of resveratrol and certain antioxidants. To see whether different wines may have different effects on lung cancer risk, Ruano-Ravina's team studied 132 patients with lung cancer and 187 hospitalized for minor surgery, asking them about lifestyle factors such as drinking and smoking habits. Both groups consisted mostly of older men.
Most of the patients in both groups said they did drink wine -- three to four glasses a day, on average -- with red wine being the most popular.
Red-wine drinkers had a lower lung cancer risk than non-drinkers did, even when smoking habits and other lifestyle factors were factored in. No such protective effect was found for white wine, beer or spirits.
Further lab work, the researchers conclude, is needed to test the findings and to weed out which red wine components might bestow any lung-cancer benefits.
SOURCE: Thorax, November 2004.
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