What’s all the hype about red wine and cancer? Indeed, some studies suggest that a glass of red wine a day can keep the doctor away, yet other research shows that modest consumption of alcohol increases risk of some kinds of cancer.
Here, we break down exactly what you need to know about alcohol, red wine and cancer risk factors.
Alcohol and Health
Alcohol is a major aspect of many cultures, present at parties and social gatherings galore. Because it’s well known that alcohol is a toxic substance, people always want to know which kind of alcohol is the least worst option.
As of now, red wine wins that award. But is the picture truly that simple? Likely not.
After alcohol is consumed, the liver largely breaks it down further for processing. The liver metabolizes alcohol into acetaldehyde and acetate. Although short-lived, acetaldehyde is toxic and a known carcinogen – otherwise known as a substance that causes cancer. It can interact with free radicals and damage DNA and it can act as a solvent, increasing other carcinogens’ ability to damage cells.
In fact, plenty of research reveals that mild to moderate consumption of any kind of alcohol increases the risk for some cancers, including cancer of the head, neck, liver, colon, rectum, and breast. Moderate to heavy alcohol intake has also been associated with a higher risk of esophageal, stomach, liver, mouth, pharynx, larynx, and prostate cancers.
Furthermore, moderate alcohol consumption has been linked to other health concerns such as:
• Increased blood pressure
• High triglycerides and/or cholesterol
• Metabolic syndrome
• Type II diabetes
Note that a few observational studies purported that moderate consumption of alcohol lowers the risk of heart disease. However, observational studies rarely account for all confounding variables and some scientists believe these specific studies are therefore skewed.
For example, some of the people who didn’t drink alcohol already had poor health conditions that prevented them from doing so. Perhaps overconsumption of alcohol led to the development of the condition in the first place.
With all this being said, how can red wine potentially reduce the risk of cancer? The answer lies within the grapes.
Cancer-Fighting Properties of Red Wine
Red wine is high in a specific antioxidant called resveratrol. Naturally plentiful in the skin and seeds of red/purple grapes, resveratrol protects cells against damage and has been suggested to reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers. This plant compound is also present in some berries and peanuts.
Resveratrol is associated with:
• Lowering blood pressure
• Improving cholesterol markers
• Slows cognitive decline
• Improves insulin sensitivity
• Eases joint pain
• Promotes longevity
• Suppresses cancer cells
Because resveratrol is in red wine, many people think this gives them a free pass to indulge liberally. However, it should be noted that many resveratrol studies were conducted using pure resveratrol. Its benefits are likely much more powerful in the absence of any alcohol.
Red wine still may reign supreme when it comes to the types of alcohol, but it could be because the beneficial properties of resveratrol basically neutralize the undoubtedly negative effects of alcohol in general.
The Big Picture
All in all, moderate to heavy drinking is associated with poor health outcomes because the metabolism of alcohol creates the carcinogen, acetaldehyde. To drink responsibly, it’s suggested that men consume no more than two alcoholic beverages daily. The recommendation is one alcoholic drink per day for women.
One serving of alcohol is about 5 ounces (oz) of wine, 12 oz of beer, or 1.5 oz of hard liquor.
Because red wine contains some resveratrol, it’s often touted as a healthful drink. The antioxidant properties of resveratrol in red wine may confer some reduction of heart disease and certain types of cancers, but portion size and moderation are still vital. Consuming pure resveratrol from red grapes, berries and peanuts is wildly more healthful than getting resveratrol from wine.
Nonetheless, red wine can certainly be included in an overall healthy lifestyle. Prioritizing a balanced diet, physical activity, sleep, and meaningful relationships can also highly reduce risk of chronic conditions!
Collins K. Mixed Messaging on Red Wine: Separating Myth from Fact. American Institute for Cancer Research. Published February 11, 2019. https://www.aicr.org/resources/blog/mixed-messaging-on-red-wine-separating-myth-from-fact/.
Espat A. Red Wine and Your Health: Facts and Myths. MD Anderson Cancer Center. Published February 2017. https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/focused-on-health/red-wine-health-benefits-facts-and-myths.h23-1591413.html.
Jennings KA. 7 Health Benefits of Resveratrol Supplements. Healthline. Written March 3, 2017. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/resveratrol#TOC_TITLE_HDR_11.