Is Red Wine Protective Of Cancer?

Red wine has been known to man for thousands of years. Ancient civilisations knew the benefits of red wine and wrote about its ability to cure ills. Modern science has corroborated these belief and shown that those populations that drink red wine have lower levels of total mortality than those who do not drink red wine. What is more the protection increases as red wine becomes more commonly drunk within populations.

White Wine Versus Red Wine

White wine differs from red in that the skin and seeds of the grapes are removed from the fermentation process fairly rapidly. In contrast red wine is fermented with its skin and seeds for longer. Apart from the obvious colour difference, this gives the two wines a rather different chemical composition. In particular, because the seeds and skin of grapes contain most of the polyphenol chemicals, red wine is a much better source of polyphenols than white wine.

Polyphenols are Protective Of Cancer

The free radical theory of cancer suggests that cancer is initiated by free radicals causing damage to DNA. This leads to the initiation of cancer, which can progress to for a tumour. Because polyphenols are antioxidants, they may interfere with the initiation of cancer by inhibiting DNA damage. In addition, polyphenols can regulate genes, and they may cause cells that have become cancerous to commit suicide (cell apoptosis).


Red wine is a highly complex mixture of plant derived chemicals. In fact, red wine is so complex, science has not yet fully characterised what exactly is in it. However, what is known is that red wine is one of the only sources of a polyphenol chemical called resveratrol. Studies show that resveratrol, and its metabolite piceatannol are potent inhibitors of cancer cells. The high concentrations of resveratrol may therefore explain some of the anti-cancer effects of red wine.

Red Wine Versus Other Alcohol

The fact that red wine is associated with a reduced risk of cancer but other alcoholic drinks increase rates of some cancers, suggests that the polyphenol content of the red wine might be responsible for its anti-cancer effects. As with all things, moderation is the key to the protective effects of red wine. Consuming red wine regularly, at an intake of 1 or 2 glasses per day appears to provide the best protection from disease, especially if it is drunk with food.


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