Tuesday, February 24, 2009

French study says wine causes cancer

Just when we thought the issue was settled, a new large scale study from France's National Cancer Institute finds that even small amounts of regular drinking can increase the risk of cancer. In fact, even as little as one glass of wine per day supposedly ups the odds of cancers of the throat all the way through to the colon and rectum. Problem is, this study is so out of phase with everything we have been hearing about wine and health that it ends up confusing the issue rather than helping. Here's what I think:
The first key to putting this in context is to remember that cancer isn't the whole story with wine and health. Benefits in lowered cardiovascular disease risk, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis, and many others would vastly outweight the increased cancer risk even if it did exist. Secondly, no single study provides the definitive answer; in order for it to be meaningful, it has to be independently confirmed by other studies. This one is inconsistent with nearly every previous study of its type, notably statistics from the American National Cancer Institute. Cancers of the type referenced in the French study are known to have a high association with smoking, and a very large percentage of French drinkers also smoke, so it is impossible to tease out the statistical risk attributable to wine drinking alone with any accuracy.
There was a similar hubbub about a year ago when a large study from Kaiser-Permanente found that even modest consumption of wine increased breast cancer risk. Less noticed was a study from Japan published the same month finding exactly the opposite. I cover the reasons behind this in the next edition of Age Gets Better with Wine.

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