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Red wine slashes lung cancer risk in smokers

October 7, 2008 |  2:30 pm

Wine1Drinking a glass or two of red wine each day may be a prescription for avoiding lung cancer, especially among high-risk people such as smokers.

A study from Kaiser Permanente researchers published today found a strong link between red wine consumption and a decreased risk of lung cancer in men. The researchers studied 84,170 men ages 45 to 69 who were part of the California Men's Health Study. They found lung cancer risk is lowered an average of 2% for each glass of red wine consumed per month. The greatest risk reduction was found among men who smoked and who drank one or two glasses of red wine per day. They had a whopping 60% reduced risk.

Red wine contains a chemical called resveratrol that is a powerful antioxidant and is associated with a variety of health benefits, both for heart health and for cancer prevention. Previous studies in lab animals suggest that resveratrol alters the activity of carcinogens in the body, inducing abnormal cells to die and retarding the growth of cancerous cells, says the lead author of the study, Chun Chao, a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente Department of Research and Evaluation in Pasadena. The study, published in the October issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, did not find any clear links between lung cancer and consumption of white wine, beer or liquor.

Chao cautions that the best way for smokers to lower the risk of developing lung cancer is to stop smoking. Even smokers who drink one or two glasses of red wine per day have a higher lung cancer risk than nonsmokers.

More research should be conducted before people start knocking back a glass or two of red wine each day just for the health of it, Chao says. "We need more studies on whether people should drink red wine to reduce lung cancer risk," she says. "If people want to drink red wine for cardiovascular benefits, they should talk to their doctor about that. But they shouldn't drink for lung cancer prevention."

The issue of drinking alcohol for health benefits is controversial because of the harm associated with heavy drinking and alcohol addiction. In general, most health professionals advise people not to start drinking if they don't already drink. The National Cancer Institute takes this position:

"Some studies suggest that alcohol consumption is associated with a lower risk of some risk of some non-cancer health conditions. However, it is not recommended that anyone begin drinking or drink more frequently on the basis of health considerations."

A thorough review of the risks and benefits of moderate drinking can be found at the website of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times

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