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Wine May Be Protective Against Esophageal Cancer

One glass a day may lower risk for Barrett's, a precursor to disease, study finds

MONDAY, March 2 (HealthDay News) -- Drinking a glass of wine a day may lower the risk of Barrett's esophagus, a condition that precedes esophageal cancer.

Barrett's esophagus, which affects about 5 percent of the population, occurs when heartburn or acid reflux permanently damages the lining of the esophagus. People with this condition are 30 to 40 times more likely to develop a type of esophageal cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma. In the last 30 years, the incidence of esophageal cancer in the United States has increased 500 percent.

In this Kaiser Permanente study, researchers looked at 953 men and women in Northern California and found that those who drank one or more glasses of red or white wine a day were 56 percent less likely to develop Barrett's esophagus. Beer or liquor did not lower the risk, and the protective effect of wine didn't increased with higher consumption.

"The rate of esophageal adenocarcinoma in this country is skyrocketing, yet very little is known about its precursor, Barrett's esophagus. We are trying to figure out how to prevent changes that may lead to esophageal cancer," principal investigator Dr. Douglas A. Corley, said in a Kaiser Permanente news release.

The study was published in the March issue of Gastroenterology. Two other studies in the same issue of the journal reported similar findings. An Australian study found that people who drink wine were less likely to develop adenocarcinoma, and Irish researchers reported that drinking wine reduces the risk of esophagitis, an irritation of the esophagus that follows chronic heartburn and often precedes Barrett's esophagus and cancer.

It's not clear why wine may lower the risk of Barrett's esophagus. Researchers suggest it may be because antioxidants in wine neutralize the damage done by gastroesophageal reflux disease. Or it may be because wine drinkers typically have food with their wine, thereby reducing the potentially damaging effects that drinking alcohol alone can have on esophageal tissue.

The wine study is part of a larger Kaiser Permanente study led by Corley looking at the link between Barrett's esophagus and abdominal obesity and consumption of dietary antioxidants, fruits and vegetables. That study found that eating eight servings of fruit and vegetables a day and maintaining normal body weight can reduce the risk of Barrett's esophagus.

"My advice to people trying to prevent Barrett's esophagus is: Keep a normal body weight and follow a diet high in antioxidants and high in fruits and vegetables," Corley said. "We already knew that red wine was good for the heart, so perhaps here is another added benefit of a healthy lifestyle and a single glass of wine a day."

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about Barrett's esophagus.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Kaiser Permanente, news release, March 2, 2009

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