Skip to main content

Wine and breast cancer: Here we go again

Yet another article about a possible link between wine and breast cancer is in the news, and as usual it is being widely quoted without any critical analysis or perspective. The article in question, a review of previously published studies, estimates that even a glass of wine per day increases risk of breast cancer and estimates that 1-2% of all breast cancer cases are attributable to light drinking alone. Rather than pick apart the article item by item, which would take all day since there are so many issues, I will highlight a few important things.

First, there are fundamental problems with the way that these types of studies are done, and reviewing them simply magnifies the underlying mistakes. Here’s the thing: in order to know if for example a glass of wine per day affected breast cancer risk, you would have to follow a large population of women who drink only wine, only a glass per day, every day, rarely more, rarely anything other than wine, and rarely not having a drink; this would need to be compared to a similar population who never drink, another who only drink beer, and so forth. But most people have mixed drinking patterns, they under-report their true level of drinking, and there is simply no reliable way to get any meaningful information. All we really know is that heavy drinking is bad.

Secondly, there are some populations of women in France who have traditionally consumed wine in moderate amounts and in a regular pattern. Their incidence breast cancer is dramatically lower than that of nondrinkers.

Third, breast cancer is nowhere near the leading cause of premature death in women; heart disease is far and away the biggest threat. It is well established that moderate wine consumption lowers heart disease risk, the net effect being overall reduction in risk of premature death.

Moderate wine consumption is also associated with lower odds of Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, and measurably improves quality of life and well-being. Wine drinkers outlive nondrinkers by about 5 years on average, and for most even if there is a fractional increase in breast cancer risk, the smart choice favors having a glass of wine with dinner and not stressing over it.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How globalization of drinking habits threatens the French paradox

It seems that the more studies we see on the relationship between wine and health, and the larger they are, the more contradictory the results. Headlines summarizing comprehensive international studies declare the French paradox dead, and all alcoholic beverages are equally detrimental. I think there is an overlooked explanation for this: over the past several decades, convergence of drinking patterns around the world has separated wine from its role as a daily part of a meal. Globalization has commoditized our views about drink, toppling it from its role as a culturally specific emblem. Global convergence of drinking There are several recent reports summarizing the trend,[i],[ii],[iii]and it applies for both developed and developing countries. Since the early 1960s, wine’s share of global alcohol consumption has more than halved, declining from 35% to 15%. Beer and spirits have taken up the slack, with beer gaining 42% and spirits adding 43%, both large gains. The bigger story howeve…

Wear red and DRINK red for women’s heart health

This Friday Feb 2nd is the annual “wear red” day in Canada and the U.S. to raise awareness for women’s heart health. Why only a day for the number one threat to women’s health? Women are 5 times more likely to succumb to heart disease than breast cancer, which gets a whole month (October.) Another contradiction is that the advice women hear about prevention of breast cancer is the opposite of what you can do to lower the risk of heart disease: a daily glass of wine. Even one drink a day raises your risk of breast cancer, we are told, ignoring the overriding benefits of wine on heart health. Drink red wine to live longer Here’s why I think women should also “drink red.” For starters, wine helps de-stress and celebrates life. Stress is a factor in heart disease, and if that were the only way wine helped it would be worth considering. But the medical evidence is also strong: a daily glass of red wine helps raise the HDL “good cholesterol” levels, which lowers the risk of cardiovascular p…

Which types of wine are the healthiest?

I am often asked after lecturing on the healthful properties of wine which type is best to drink. Since much of the discussion has to do with the polyphenol antioxidants from the skins and seeds of the grape, red wine is the first criterion since it is fermented with the whole grape rather than the pressed juice. This allows for extraction and concentration of these compounds, familiar ones being resveratrol and tannins. But beyond that, which varietals have the highest concentrations?


According to the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder, “The best kind of wine is that which is pleasant to him that drinks it” but modern science expects more specifics. (The point of course is that if you have a wine that you enjoy you are more likely to drink regularly and therefore reap the benefits.) But there are several difficulties in singling out certain wines for their healthful properties. Which compounds to measure? Are we talking about heart health or the whole gamut? Is it the varietal of the …