Page last updated: Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Wine drinkers have reduced risk of gullet cancer
Drinking a glass of wine a day could reduce the risk of Barrett’s Esophagus (BE) - a precursor to oesophageal cancer by 56%, a new study has concluded.

The type of alcohol that people drink and their social background appears to be linked to the risk of developing BE, which occurs when heartburn or acid reflux permanently damages the oesophageal lining. The study found that, compared to the general population, people with BE have a 30 to 125-fold increased risk of developing oesophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC), which is the fastest growing cancer in the US.

The study included 953 men and women in Northern California between 2002 and 2005. Results suggest that people who drank one or more glasses of red or white wine a day had 56% reduced risk of BE, but the protective effect of wine did not increase with higher consumption.

One theory as to why wine reduces the risk of BE and oesophageal cancer is that the antioxidants neutralise the oxidative damage caused by gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, a risk factor for BE. Another theory is that wine drinkers typically consume food with their wine, reducing the potentially damaging effect of alcohol on oesophageal tissue.

The incidence of EAC has increased by more than 500% in the last three decades. The rate of increase is most predominant among Caucasian males, which the authors say suggests that environmental or lifestyle factors may play important roles. It said that stratification by beverage type showed an inverse association for wine drinkers compared to non-drinkers. In addition, education status was significantly inversely associated with the risk of BE. Those who preferred wine were more likely to have college degrees and regularly take vitamin supplements than those who preferred beer or liquor.

The study concluded that there were “associations between alcohol types, socioeconomic status, and the risk of Barrett’s oesophagus”. But it said: “Although choice of alcoholic beverages was associated with several factors, multiple adjustments (including for gastro-oesophageal reflux disease or GERD) did not eliminate the association between alcohol and Barrett’s oesophagus.”

The research findings were echoed by two other studies published in the same issue of Gastroenterology. Australian researchers found that people who drank wine were at a lower risk of EAC and Irish researchers found that people who drank wine were at a lower risk for oesophagitis, an irritation of the oesophagus that follows chronic heartburn and often precedes BE and cancer.

Source: ‘Alcohol Types and Sociodemographic Characteristics as Risk Factors for Barrett’s Esophagus” Ai Kubo, T. R. Levin, G. Block, G. J. Rumore, C. P. Quesenberry Jr, P. Buffler, D. A. Corley.Gastroenterology, March 2009, Volume 136, Issue 3, Pages 806-815

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