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Drinking red wine could protect against lung cancer, but white wine may increase the risk according to a study by Spanish scientists.

They examined the effects of different types of wine on lung cancer, the most common and deadly form of the disease. “Consumption of red wine ... was associated with a slight but statistically significant reduction in the development of lung cancer,” Professor Juan Barros-Dios, of the University of Santiago de Compostela, said in a study in the journal Thorax.

Red wine’s tannins and resveratrol could explain the drink’s anti-cancer properties. Tannins act as antioxidants, which mop up free radicals — particles harmful to cells. Resveratrol is known to fight cancer tumour growth. “We have known for a while that drinking a little red wine can protect against a number of conditions, from the common cold to coronary heart disease. This new research suggests that red wine, in moderation, could also protect against lung cancer”, said Professor Andrew Peacock of the British Thoracic Society

The scientists could find no explanation why white wine appeared to increase lung cancer risk. “We really don’t know how to explain this result. Maybe it highlights the difference in red and white wine composition,” states Dr Alberto Ruano-Ravina.However, he emphasized the risk was very slight and only 39 white wine drinkers were studied. The researchers stressed the aim of the study was to investigate red wine’s anti-cancer components, not to determine how much wine would ward off cancer. The effects of wine drinking were studied in 132 people with lung cancer and 187 people who were in hospital for non-tobacco related minor surgery in the northwestern Santiago de Compostela district of Spain.

Source: Ruano-Ravina A et al. Type of wine and risk of lung cancer: a case-control study in Spain. Thorax 2004;59:981-5.

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