Wine drinkers have a lower risk for developing a cancer of the esophagus that is
one of the deadliest and fastest growing cancers in the U.S., new research
Esophageal cancer rates have increased over the last three decades, due to a
more than 500% increase of a subtype of the cancer linked to acid reflux
disease, known as esophageal adenocarcinoma.
Alcohol abuse is a known risk
factor for another esophageal cancer -- squamous cell esophageal cancer.
But findings from three newly published studies suggest that drinking wine
in moderation may help protect against esophageal adenocarcinoma or a
precancerous condition, Barrett's esophagus .
All three studies appear in the March issue of the journal
Wine Drinking and Barrett's Esophagus
In one study, researchers from the Kaiser Permanente division of research in
Oakland, Calif. reported that drinking as little as one glass of wine a day was
associated with a 56% decrease in the risk for developing Barrett's
About 5% of the U.S. population is estimated to have Barrett's, but most are
never diagnosed. People with the condition have about a 30- to 40-fold higher
risk of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma than the general population.
The California study is the largest ever to examine the connection between
alcohol consumption and the condition.
Researchers examined data from a larger trial that included detailed,
self-reported information on alcohol consumption. The study included 320 people
who were diagnosed with Barrett's esophagus between 2002 and 2005, 316 people
who had gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD ) without Barrett's, and 317
people without Barrett's or GERD.
Even after controlling for other risk factors for Barrett's, moderate wine
consumption appeared to be protective.
"We found no relationship between overall alcohol consumption and
Barrett's esophagus, but the risk of developing Barrett's was lower among wine
drinkers," Kaiser Permanente gastrointerologist and principal investigator
Douglas A. Corley, MD, tells WebMD.
Other Studies, Similar Findings
In a second study researchers in Australia examined the drinking histories
of patients with both types of esophageal cancer.
The researchers found that:
- As expected, heavy alcohol consumption was associated with an increased
risk for squamous cell cancer of the esophagus.
- No association was seen between the amount of alcohol consumed and
- Moderate intake of wine or spirits (no more than a drink per day) was
associated with a lower risk for both cancers, compared to nondrinkers.
In a third study, researchers from Belfast, Northern Ireland examined the
impact of alcohol consumption on GERD-related esophagitis, Barrett's esophagus,
and esophageal adenocarcinoma.
They found no increase in risk associated with drinking alcohol in early
adulthood for any of the three conditions.
Their findings suggest that wine may lower the risk of reflux esophagitis,
Barrett's esophagus, and esophageal adenocarcinoma.
Is It the Alcohol?
The studies suggest, but do not prove, that drinking wine in moderation
protects against esophageal adenocarcinoma and Barrett's.
If wine is protective, Corley says the benefits may have nothing to do with
"Wine is high in antioxidants and other studies have shown that people
who eat plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables are less
likely to have Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancer," he says.
In animal studies, antioxidants have also been shown to protect against the
inflammation that causes injury to the esophagus.
Because of the many unanswered questions, Corley says it is far too soon to
recommend drinking a glass of wine a day to proect against esophageal
"At best, we can say at this point that alcohol does not seem to be a
risk factor for Barrett's and esophageal adenocarcinoma," he says.
Barrett's researcher Prateek Sharma, MD, of the University of Kansas School
of Medicine, agrees.
"It may be that people who drink wine have healthier lifestyles," he
says. "They may eat more fruits and vegetables and consume less fat in
their diets. The last thing you would want is for people to start drinking wine
to prevent cancer."
And even though esophageal adenocarcinoma is the fastest growing cancer in
the U.S., Sharma points out that it is still relatively uncommon.
"About 15,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with esophageal cancer a
year, compared to 150,000 people diagnosed with colon cancer ," he says.
By Salynn Boyles
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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