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Raise a Glass of Wine For Your Heart, But Not Your Breasts

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Cancer related image Photo: Getty Images

For years, numerous scientific studies have touted the health benefits of red and white wine from reducing heart disease, keeping your lungs and immune system healthy, halting prostate cancer growth and preventing the absorption of cholesterol. So drinking wine is really good for you, right?

Not so fast. The answer to that question depends on your body’s biology, what healthy benefits you are talking about, and just how much wine you consume.

While the consensus over health benefits varies, researchers generally agree low to moderate wine consumption is key (for women, that’s one to five, 5-ounce glasses per week). While no amount of alcohol consumption is without risk, here are some studies to consider.

Breast Cancer Risk
Researchers lead by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle conducted the largest study of its kind to determine if red or white wine had any health benefits for women’s breast cancer risk. The study’s lead author, Polly Newcomb, head of the Center’s cancer prevention program said there was no compelling reason to choose Chianti or Chardonnay.

“Neither appears to have any benefits,” she said. “The general evidence is that alcohol consumption overall increases breast cancer risk.”

The 13,588 study participants were women ages 20 to 69 from Wisconsin, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The researchers found women who consumed 14 or more alcoholic drinks per week (beer, wine or liquor) increased their breast cancer risk by 24 percent compared to non-drinkers. The study, funded by the National Cancer Center, was published in the March 2009 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

Are Wine’s Healthy Benefits linked to Alcohol?
Red wine’s heart healthy benefits have been linked to flavonoids not found in other alcoholic beverages. That got researchers from the University of California Davis thinking: Does the alcohol in red wine enhance the flavonoid benefits?

UC Davis researchers focused on the natural plant-based phenol antioxidant flavonoid catechin, found abundantly in red wine and cacao beans.

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The question of wine and breast cancer risk is a complicated one but unfortunately recent large studies don't really add much. The study cited above from the Fred Hutchinson Center in Seattle actually states "Wine consumption was not associated with risk of breast cancer" so that is why there was no difference between red and white - no increased risk either way. In order to definitively know whether red wine raises or lowers risk, you would need to study large populations of women with a very consistent drinking pattern over a long period of time, and in such populations there is a dramatically lower risk for red wine drinkers. References at www.agegetsbetterwithwine.com.

August 3, 2011 - 10:28am
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