Red Wine: Cancer Causing Or Cancer Protective? Researchers Say Both

Dawn Papple

People who drink red wine have the lowest incidence of cancer caused by alcohol, and researchers think they know why that is. A new study published in the medical journal Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology explains that while alcohol has cancer causing effects, red wine offers an anti-cancer quality that most other forms of alcohol do not offer. The study was completed by researchers at the University of Colorado Cancer Center.

When people first begin to metabolize alcohol, it is converted to acetyl aldehyde, a known carcinogen.

"With enough alcohol, the body can get behind and end up with a backlog of acetyl aldehyde," Dr. Robert Sclafani, the author of the paper, said. As he looked at epidemiological studies of head and neck cancer, he noted that alcohol is a major factor. He explained that when he separated the data into the type of alcohol, it was clear that people who drank red wine seemed to be more protected from cancer.

"In red wine, there's something that's blocking the cancer-causing effect of alcohol," Sclafani said. Sclafani believed the resveratrol found in the skin of the grapes used to make red wine removes the most damaged cells from wine drinkers' bodies. The most heavily damaged cells are also the cells most likely to turn cancerous, according to Medical News Today.

"Alcohol bombards your genes," Sclafani explained. "Your body has ways to repair this damage, but with enough alcohol eventually some damage isn't fixed. That's why excessive alcohol use is a factor in head and neck cancer. Now, resveratrol challenges these cells - the ones with unrepaired DNA damage are killed, so they can't go on to cause cancer. Alcohol damages cells and resveratrol kills damaged cells."

According to the press release, research into another disease was integral to the research about red wine's complicated relationship with cancer. Fanconi anemia is a rare genetic disorder which makes it so that these patients are not able to repair DNA as well as the general population. Without being able to make repairs, damaged DNA accumulates in the body, so these patients are very susceptible to head and neck cancer and leukemias, according to the press release about red wine and cancer.

"We learn a lot from genetic disorders because you can put a finger on a gene and say, hey, we know what that does," Sclafani said, explaining that a genetic cancer-accelerator in Fanconi anemia patients is the same cancer causing mechanism in alcohol-related cancers; partially metabolized alcohol. For red wine drinkers, Sclafani explained, the ability to flush out damaged cells with the help of resveratrol might just be a life saver!

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