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New research supports health benefits of red wine
(CNN) -- Research scientists in North Carolina have announced discovery of how a chemical found in red wine helps to fight cancer.
The study may help explain the controversial "French paradox," the apparent lower rates of heart disease and some cancers among the French, despite a typical national diet high in fat.
Compared to other nationalities in Europe, the French eat more beef, cheese, butter and other artery-clogging foods. But they also drink more wine, and researchers have speculated that certain compounds in grapes and grape products like wine offer some kind of protection from the negative effects of the high-fat diet.
The new research identified the workings of a key cancer-related substance: trans-Resveratrol, often called Res.
In addition to red grapes, Res is found in mulberries, raspberries, peanuts, muscadine grapes, including scuppernongs, and many other fruits and nuts, said the research scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"A couple of years ago, a group at the University of Illinois found that Res has both anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties," said nutritional biologist Minnie Holmes-McNary, Ph.D., an author of the North Carolina study. "The question then became how does it exert its effects, and thatís what we show in our paper."
'Very exciting' findings on diet-health relationship
Published in the July 1 edition of Cancer Research, the study reports Res inhibits the activity of a protein that attaches to DNA inside human cells. This protein, NF-kappa B, operates like a switch turning genes on and off.
"Using Res," Holmes-McNary said, "we were able to promote apoptosis, a process that the body uses to kill cancer cells and other cells it needs to get rid of." The experiments were done on cultured human and rat cells.
"When Res was absent from the cell culture system," she said, "cancer cells continued to survive, but when Res was there under experimental conditions, we could successfully promote death of cancer cells by turning off (the protein called) NF-kappa B."
Next will be experimentation using laboratory rodents. Then, the scientists said, they may extend their work to people within a few years.
Holmes-McNary said the research helps explain how diet influences health, and how grapes may protect the body from some diseases. "This is very exciting work," she said.
Other scientists, however, debunk the "French paradox." The lower rates of heart disease, they say, are explained by underreporting of coronary deaths and by statistics that show that French men are more likely to die at a younger age from other causes, before the peak of heart disease typically strikes in late middle age. French men have, for example, high rates of liver disease and cancer of the stomach and intestines.
How much alcohol is too much?
Without doubt, the relationship between use of alcohol and human health is complex. Scientific debate continues on what advantage is gained from alcohol itself versus other elements in beverages containing alcohol.
The risk of breast cancer may increase with the amount of alcohol a woman regularly consumes, according to reports from the American Cancer Society. One study found that the death rate from breast cancer was 30 percent higher among women reporting at least one drink daily than among nondrinkers.
Dr. Thomas A. Pearson of the American Heart Association has pointed out that lack of precision in language influences attitudes: What is moderation in alcohol consumption?
In general, a 12-ounce bottle of beer, a 4-ounce glass of wine and a 1.5-ounce shot of 80-proof spirits all contain the same amount of alcohol, he said.
Most researchers in the field define moderation as one or two servings per day.
Pearson said no alcohol should be consumed by people with a personal or family history of alcoholism, elevated triglycerides or problems with the pancreas, liver or heart, including high blood pressure. Pregnant women should not drink, he said.
But for most people, "consumption of one or two drinks per day is associated with a reduction in risk of approximately 30 percent to 50 percent" in coronary heart disease, Pearson said.
"The lowest mortality occurs in those who consume one or two drinks per day," he said. "In teetotalers or occasional drinkers, the (mortality) rates are higher than in those consuming one or two drinks per day. In persons who consume three or more drinks per day, total mortality climbs rapidly with increasing numbers of drinks per day."
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Overview of the 'French paradox'
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