Red wine may ward off lung cancer: study

A woman smells a glass of red wine from Spain during a tasting session at Vinexpo Asia-Pacific, the International Wine and Spirits Exhibition for the Asia-Pacific region, in Hong Kong May 28, 2008. REUTERS/Victor Fraile

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Drinking red wine, but not white wine, may reduce lung cancer risk, especially among current and ex-smokers, new research indicates.

People who had ever smoked and who drank at least a glass of red wine daily were 60 percent less like to develop lung cancer than ever-smokers who didn’t drink alcohol, Dr. Chun Chao of Kaiser Permanente Southern California in Pasadena and colleagues found.

But white wine didn’t reduce risk, suggesting it could be compounds contained in red wine, such as resveratrol and flavonoids, rather than the healthier lifestyle associated with wine drinking, that may be protective, the researchers say.

Studies examining the relationship between lung cancer and alcohol consumption have had mixed results, they note in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. Much of this research has failed to adjust for factors like socioeconomic status that can influence both alcohol use and lung cancer risk.

In the current study, Chao and her colleagues looked at 84,170 men 45 to 69 years old covered by Kaiser Permanente California health plans. Between 2000 and 2006, 210 of them developed lung cancer.

After accounting for the influence of age, education, income, exposure to second-hand smoke, body weight, and other relevant factors, the researchers found that lung cancer risk steadily decreased with red wine drinking, with a 2 percent drop seen with each additional glass of red wine a man drank per month. No other type of alcoholic beverage, including white wine, was associated with lung cancer risk.

For men who were heavy smokers, the reduction in risk was greater, with a 4 percent lower likelihood of developing lung cancer seen for each glass of red wine consumed per month.

Research has shown that wine drinkers may have healthier lifestyles and tend to have more education and higher income than non-wine drinkers, the researchers note. But the fact that reduced lung cancer risk was seen only with red wine, not white, “lends support to a causal association for red wine and suggests that compounds that are present at high concentrations in red wine but not in white wine, beer or liquors may be protective against lung carcinogenesis,” Chao and her team say.

SOURCE: Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, October 2008.