Sunday, November 7, 2010

Wine and Die?

I picked up the July/August Nutrition Health Alert from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) today to read the cover article about lowering risk for breast cancer.  Now that I have ovarian cancer, my risk for breast cancer has increased so I am becoming even more sensitive to what I need to do to reduce the risk of that disease as well are the recurrence of the cancer I have already had.

Two of the four risk factors they identify I already knew. Keep your weight down and exercise.  I am struggling with both of those now but am working on them.  Today I walked 2 miles and cooked another vegetarian, low fat, low cal dish --crustless spinach and mushroom quiche with egg whites.  Yesterday I made veggie lasagna with no pasta-- only squash, broccoli, tomato sauce and low fat cheese.  By the way, spaghetti squash is NOT a good substitute for spaghetti.  I'm just saying.

A third factor I also knew and have practiced--no hormones.  The fourth factor, however, perplexes me.  The article suggests minimizing alcohol, quoting a Harvard scientist Walter Willett, who worked on the Nurses' Health Study (hello my participant sister) and a new study from the UK, the Million Women Study.  "Just one drink a day can raise your risk for several cancers", the article states, with a glass of red wine prominently displayed.

The health gurus on PBS push red wine for health.  My oncologist told me a glass of red wine a day was fine, even desirable.  I have invested in bottles of red wine and a wine rack and now I have to cut it out?!   Why is there a split in the advice about drinking red wine?

photo © 2009 Matthew Rogers  Creative Commons license
The National Cancer Institute, those folks who supported the study I wrote about the other day about CT scans as an early screen for lung cancer, have on their website an article touting the benefits of red wine in reducing cancer risk.  The article however is eight years old and says itself that research is just beginning on the issue.  Presumably the studies cited by CPSI are more current and are based on human longitudinal research rather than animal research.  However, they are also based on self report and do not have any control groups, which the animal studies do.  In the animal studies, resveratrol and polyphenols were the chemicals with a positive impact on lowering cancer risk.  See also here.  And one wonders how much people underestimate in their self report the amount they drink.

My favorite research, however, is being done in angiogenesis.  I favor this research because red wine and dark chocolate are two of the foods considered antiangiogenic.  Dr. William Li (not to be confused with my wonderful oncologist Dr. Andrew Li at Cedars) of the Angiogenesis Foundation argues that cutting off the blood supply to cancer cells is the best way to prevent cancer.  Standup2Cancer reports:
Angiogenesis is a big word for a simple concept: it’s the process through which our bodies create new blood vessels. In normal, healthy individuals, new blood vessels grow only under specific circumstances: as part of the healing process for an injury, for instance, or during pregnancy. Our bodies contain a natural system of checks and balances to regulate the growth of blood vessels, known to scientists as angiogenesis stimulators and inhibitors. “The stimulators act as natural fertilizers to get vessels to grow, and the inhibitors prune back extra vessels when they’re no longer needed,” Li explains.
Without blood vessels to supply them with the nutrients necessary for expansion, microscopic cancers have nothing to do and nowhere to go. But as cancer cells mutate, they can hijack the body’s system of checks and balances, using angiogenesis stimulators to create the blood supply they need. A microscopic tumor, given a steady influx of blood, can grow to up to 16,000 times its original size in as little as two weeks. And, of course, what goes in must come out; the blood feeding the tumor is circulated back through the body, now bearing cancer cells that can take up residence in distant organs, leading to metastasis. “This is the turnkey step that converts a harmless cancer into a deadly one,” says Li.
So what do I believe?  It is hard to sort out the research.  I think that I will try to steer a middle course.  I do not really drink wine every day anyway and I enjoy red wine so I probably will continue to have a few (i.e. 3-4) glasses a week and hope for the best.  Kompai!

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