Study suggests red wine may provide breast cancer benefit

Drinking red wine may decrease breast cancer risk, according to a study published this month in the Journal of Women’s Health. According to the researchers, chemicals in red grape skin and seeds may act as aromatase inhibitors (AIs) and decrease breast cancer risk in premenopausal women.

Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California conducted a small cross-over study of 36 premenopausal women (average age=36). The women were randomly assigned to drink eight ounces of red or white wine at dinner for 21 days, abstaining during their period, and then crossing over to the other type of wine for another 21 days. To measure changes in hormone patterns, Dr. Braunstein and colleagues measured levels of estradiol, estrone, androstenedione, total and free testosterone, sex hormone binding globulin, luteinizing hormone, and follicle stimulating hormone twice during the menstrual cycle. AIs prevent the conversion of androgens (androstenedione and testosterone) to estrogen. If the chemicals of red wine are mimicking AIs, blood levels of androgens would increase and levels of estradiol, estrone, and sex hormone binding globulin would decrease.

Compared with white wine, red wine was associated with statistically significant higher levels of free testosterone, with an average difference of 0.64 pg/mL of blood. It was also associated with lower levels of sex hormone binding globulin. While estradiol levels were lower after red wine versus white wine, the difference was not statistically significant. “These data suggest that red wine is a nutritional AI and may explain the observation that red wine does not appear to increase breast cancer risk,” conclude the authors. This is an interesting finding after numerous epidemiologic studies have shown an increased risk of breast cancer associated with drinking alcohol. While results have been inconsistent regarding the importance of the color of wine, this study suggests that stratifying analyses by red versus white wine is warranted in future studies.

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