April 20, 2004 -- Wine, beer, and tea appear to slow breast cancer growth, new research shows. It's more evidence that plant-based foods (or drinks) can positively affect health.
Grapes, grains, and tea leaves -- the main ingredients in these drinks -- contain phenols, natural compounds that have been shown to have protective effects against heart disease, cancer, viruses, and allergies. Phenols appear to protect cells, tissues, and arteries against the damaging effects of free radicals in the bloodstream. Free radicals are the by-products of cell processes that can damage cells.
However, drinking alcohol for health purposes is controversial -- especially for postmenopausal women. Regular, moderate amounts of alcohol have been shown to increase a woman's risk of breast cancer by affecting female hormone levels. Since postmenopausal women's bodies make less estrogen and progesterone, by drinking alcohol and altering the balance of hormones further, they may expose their breast cells to higher levels of estrogen. This may trigger the estrogen-sensitive breast cells to become cancerous.
In the Petri Dish
In this study, researchers set out to examine whether compounds in these drinks could have breast cancer-fighting properties. In petri dishes, they first grew human breast cancer cells -- then individually exposed them to phenols from red wine, beer, and tea.
All three phenol compounds significantly affected breast cancer cell growth -- as early as 24 hours after exposure to the cancer cells, reports researcher Sandra Pinheiro-Silva, with the University of Porto in Portugal.
Phenols in all three drinks -- wine, beer, and tea -- markedly protected DNA from damage, which also causes cells to become cancerous.
Women are not advised to increase their alcohol intake to prevent breast cancer. More studies are necessary before any claim like that can be made.