20040922

A Glass of Red Wine a Day May Keep Prostate Cancer Away

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
SEATTLE — Sep. 22, 2004

Drinking a glass of red wine a day may cut a man's risk of prostate cancer in half, and the protective effect appears to be strongest against the most aggressive forms of the disease, according to a new study led by investigators at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

The findings, by Janet L. Stanford, Ph.D., and colleagues in Fred Hutchinson's Public Health Sciences Division, appear online in The International Journal of Cancer.

"We found that men who consumed four or more glasses of red wine per week reduced their risk of prostate cancer by 50 percent," Stanford said. "Among men who consumed four or more 4-ounce glasses of red wine per week, we saw about a 60 percent lower incidence of the more aggressive types of prostate cancer," said Stanford, senior author of the study. "The more clinically aggressive prostate cancer is where the strongest reduction in risk was observed."

Stanford and colleagues found no significant effects — positive nor negative — associated with the consumption of beer or hard liquor and no consistent risk reduction with white wine, which suggests that there must be a beneficial compound in red wine that other types of alcohol lack. That compound, Stanford and colleagues believe, may be an antioxidant called resveratrol, which is abundant in the skins of red grapes but much less so in the skins of white grapes. The compound is also found in peanuts and raspberries and is available as a dietary supplement, which has been suggested to protect against cardiovascular disease.

Laboratory studies indicate that resveratrol influences a variety of biological pathways that are important in cancer development. For example:

* As an antioxidant, it helps sweep dangerous, cancer-causing free radicals from the body.
* As a potent anti-inflammatory agent, it blocks certain enzymes that promote tumor development.
* The compound also reduces cell proliferation, curtailing the number of cell divisions that could lead to cancer or the continued growth of cancer cells.
* It also enhances apoptosis, or programmed cell death, which helps rid the body of cancerous cells.
* It may act as an estrogen, reducing levels of circulating male hormones such as testosterone that fuel the growth of prostate cancer.

While the researchers found that the risk of prostate cancer decreased 6 percent for every glass of red wine consumed per week, Stanford is quick to point out that research shows the law of diminishing returns comes into play when consumption increases beyond moderation.

"From a public-health standpoint, it's difficult to recommend any alcohol consumption given the risks associated with heavy consumption, from increased overall cancer risk to accidental injury and social problems. But for men who already are consuming alcohol, I think the results of this study suggest that modest consumption of red wine — four to eight 4-ounce drinks per week — is the level at which you might receive benefit. Clearly other studies show that more than that may have adverse effects on health."

For the study, the researchers interviewed 753 newly diagnosed Seattle-area prostate-cancer patients as well as 703 healthy controls who served as a comparison group. Detailed information about tumor aggressiveness (such as tumor grade and disease stage) was obtained through the National Cancer Institute's Seattle-Puget Sound Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results cancer registry.

"Even though this study is based on relatively small numbers, the results are very intriguing and suggest that the potential beneficial effect of red wine and resveratrol — if indeed resveratrol is the active chemopreventive agent involved — would be very important, because it's the more aggressive forms of prostate cancer than are most important to prevent," she said.

A particular strength of the study, Stanford said, is that the participants were relatively young, ranging in age from 40 to 64, and the majority were under 60.

"By focusing on men under age 65, whose incidence of prostate cancer is much lower than that of older men, we can tease out the effect of a particular environmental exposure on cancer risk, such as wine consumption, more easily than if we were looking at men across the entire age range," she said. This is particularly true when studying complex diseases such as prostate cancer in which numerous genetic and environmental factors are thought to play a role over an individual's lifetime.

Another strength of the study is that in addition to being surveyed about lifetime alcohol consumption, participants were asked about a variety of other risk factors for prostate cancer, such as diet, family history of cancer, screening for prostate cancer and tobacco use, all of which were taken into account and adjusted for when analyzing the data.

While the majority of studies to date have assessed the effects of overall alcohol use on prostate-cancer risk, fewer studies have attempted to compare the effects of wine versus beer versus hard liquor, and only one previous study has compared the impact of red versus white wine on prostate-cancer risk, said Stanford, also a professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine.

The previous study, the Netherlands Cohort Study, evaluated prostate-cancer risk in relation to white and red wine consumption. Increased risks were found in men who consumed "white and fortified wines," but not red wine, as compared to nondrinkers, although there was not a consistent trend in risks with levels of intake. Interestingly, among men who consumed 15 or more grams of red wine per day (about one and a half glasses per day), there was an overall 18 percent reduction in risk and a 16 percent lower risk of advanced-stage prostate cancers. The Netherlands Cohort Study was initiated in 1986 and collected information by self-administered mailed questionnaires that asked about alcohol consumption during the prior year only. Thus, the Netherlands Cohort Study results only reflect associations with recent wine consumption, as investigators were unable to examine lifetime intake as was done in the current Fred Hutchinson study.

"One of the reasons we wanted to do this study is because overall, most of the scientific literature — around 17 studies to date — haven't shown a consistent relationship between alcohol consumption and prostate cancer," Stanford said. "Some have shown an increase, some a decrease, and most no association whatsoever. Part of the problem, we believe, is that few of the studies have attempted to sort out the effects of different types of alcohol intake over a man's lifetime."

Stanford and colleagues plan to seek funding to conduct a larger study to see if their results hold up. In collaboration with Norm Greenberg, Ph.D., of Fred Hutchinson's Clinical Research Division, they also plan to test the effects of resveratrol on mouse models of prostate cancer to see if giving mice this chemical compound will reduce the onset of prostate cancer and/or decrease the aggressiveness of the disease.

The first author of the study, W. Marieke Schoonen, M.S., formerly a graduate student in Stanford's group, is now a doctoral student at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services funded the research.

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home of two Nobel Prize laureates, is an independent, nonprofit research institution dedicated to the development and advancement of biomedical technology to eliminate cancer and other potentially fatal diseases. Fred Hutchinson receives more funding from the National Institutes of Health than any other independent U.S. research center. Recognized internationally for its pioneering work in bone-marrow transplantation, the center's four scientific divisions collaborate to form a unique environment for conducting basic and applied science. Fred Hutchinson, in collaboration with its clinical and research partners, the University of Washington Academic Medical Center and Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center, is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in the Pacific Northwest and is one of 38 nationwide. For more information, visit the center's Web site at www.fhcrc.org.

20040920

Scientists Shed Light On Mechanism Behind Beneficial Effects Of Red Wine

This story has been adapted from a news release issued by National Science Foundation.

Scientists are a step closer to understanding the health benefits of drinking red wine. Researchers funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and affiliated with the Salk Institute in San Diego, Calif., have succeeded in converting chalcone synthase, a biosynthetic protein enzyme found in all higher plants, into an efficient resveratrol synthase. Resveratrol, a beneficial component of red wine, is thought to contribute to the improved cardiovascular effects associated with moderate consumption of red wine.

The research results appear in the September issue of the journal Chemistry & Biology.

Laboratory studies with resveratrol have demonstrated an impressive list of health benefits, including roles as anti-oxidants, cancer preventing agents, blood thinners and blood pressure -lowering compounds. Resveratrol recently was shown to increase lif
e span in fruit flies and yeast, suggesting an additional role in our diets as a promising anti-aging natural chemical.

"This research demonstrates the power of protein engineering in producing value-added traits, and in solving synthetic puzzles using modern techniques," said William Nes, program director in NSF's division of molecular and cellular biosciences, which funded the research. "The study provides new insights into the relationships among plant proteins."

The health benefits of resveratrol consumption are a lucky accident, scientists say, as grapes actually produce resveratrol in order to defend against fungal invasion. Researchers at the Salk Institute have now deciphered the three-dimensional structure of the plant enzyme that creates this remarkable but rare molecule. In the process, they've resolved a long-standing scientific puzzle: the crucial differences between common plant enzymes known as chalcone synthases and their resveratrol-producing relatives, the much rarer stilbene synthases.

Scientists realized decades ago that chalcones and stilbenes, two important classes of plant natural products with different properties, were produced by closely related enzymatic proteins. All higher plants possess chalcone synthase. Chalcone-derived natural chemicals fulfill a number of important biological functions in plants including roles in plant fertility, disease resistance and flower color. Conversely, production of resveratrol and other rare anti-fungal stilbenes occurs in just a few plant species, including grapevines, peanuts, blueberries and some pine trees.

Using the tools of structural biology, Michael Austin, a graduate student at the Salk Institute and the University of California, San Diego, solved the three dimensional structure of resveratrol synthase and compared its shape to its relative chalcone synthase. Austin is part of a research team led by biochemist Joseph Noel of the Salk Institute. The team has uncovered the crucial differences between these related plant enzymes. "In addition to illuminating the molecular mechanisms of plant evolution, this study has agricultural and nutraceutical significance," said Noel.

Noel and colleagues used their new knowledge to convert a chalcone synthase from alfalfa into an efficient resveratrol-producing factory, simply by changing a few amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). "This biotechnological advance will allow us to 'engineer' natural resveratrol production into crop plants via a small modification of that plant's own chalcone synthase gene, as occurs naturally in grapes and a few other plants," said Noel.

20040914

Two glasses of wine a week still safe for pregnant women

Sarah Boseley, health editor
Tuesday September 14, 2004
The Guardian

Pregnant women and those hoping to conceive can safely drink up to two glasses of wine a week without harming the foetus, the Department of Health said yesterday, rejecting claims that the only safe limit is no alcohol at all.

The department was unmoved by assertions at a conference in Wigan on foetal alcohol spectrum (FAS) disorder yesterday that women who drink in pregnancy could be causing irreparable harm to their child.

Dr Raja Mukherjee, an expert on the disorder who works at St George's hospital medical school in Tooting, London, called for pregnant women to cut out alcohol completely, and said the UK's binge drinking habits were of particular concern.

"Everyone who drinks during pregnancy is potentially at risk," he said. "Studies to date have shown that the most common group to have children with foetal alcohol syndrome are people who drink chronically during pregnancy.

"There is an increasing literature of evidence, however, to suggest that binge drinking as well as low doses of alcohol can cause damage."

Studies in the US, South Africa and Scandinavia suggest that one in 300 infants is affected by some form of FAS disorder. There are no comparable figures in the UK. Researchers believe that affected children can suffer problems with memory, attention span, hyperactivity, physical abnormalities and a diminished IQ.

Dr Mukherjee wants to carry out research on the problem in the UK. He believes the condition is often not diagnosed. "FAS is a pervasive disorder. This means that it will never be cured and will never go away," he said. "It affects the basic structure of the brain and the way that it processes information."

But the Department of Health said the research cited at the conference had been reviewed in March as part of the government's alcohol harm reduction strategy, and that the two units a week limit was considered to be safe. "It [the research] was seen as valuable, but there were questions about its robustness," a spokeswoman said.

20040908

Information, Please: Wine Goes Digital

By SAM PERKINS
The New York Times
Published: September 8, 2000

WITH hundreds of names to keep track of and new varietals and vintages arriving all the time, it is understandable that wine shoppers wind up grabbing a couple of bottles of pinot grigio and running for the exit.

Braver customers can always ask for help from a knowledgeable salesclerk, if they are lucky enough to find one.

As with so many other businesses, wine stores are turning to computers to help. An increasing number are installing interactive touch screens to dispense information about wines, wine and food pairings, grape varieties, distilled spirits and more. These digital pioneers include behemoths like Wegmans, the supermarket chain based in Rochester; two Houston liquor-store chains, Spec's and Copperfield; and small shops in Manhattan and San Francisco.

But as the use of the digital systems spreads, questions arise: Will the in-store digital information guide customers through the clutter or simply add to it? Is the information trustworthy? First indications are that the systems show promise and that customers use them, but that there is lots of work to do.

At three Wegmans stores in New Jersey, customers use an A.T.M.-like touch screen to find wines by country, grape variety, price and other criteria. Each unit has a bar code reader and a built-in printer. Buyers curious about wines can scan in the code, read the text on the screen and print it.

For example, scan in Beringer Founder's Estate Pinot Noir, for example, and hit "Print." Out comes 21 inches of ticker tape, complete with a taste profile ("flavors of cherry and orange spice predominate on the finish"), excerpts of reviews ("four stars," says The Houston Chronicle) and wine-food pairing ideas (grilled salmon or rack of lamb).

Though Mike Riley, the wine buyer for Wegmans, says that this basic information is "not for the wine geek," there was plenty to keep the geek happy. According to the printout, Beringer's pinot noir grapes were given a "cold-soak for four days" and 10 percent were put through carbonic maceration before being "aged seven months in French and American oak."

When Amy Kitzler, a 26-year-old secretary, saw a Wegmans screen in action in Bridgewater, N.J., she was especially intrigued by the wine-food pairing suggestions.

"This is a good idea," she said. "I would definitely use it to see what to serve."

More guarded in her opinion was Sue Williams, a legal editor from Manhattan, who was visiting in Bridgewater. She found the touch screen system "a little sterile."

"I'd use it, but I'd rather have a salesperson," she said. "At my store in the West Village, they're very knowledgeable and know what I like. When I come here, I'm never sure — the store is good, but how much do the cashiers know?"

And how reliable is the system's information? ChoiceMaster, the South Salem, N.Y., company that installed Wegmans systems, relies largely on information from importers and wineries. ChoiceMaster's developer, Jim Greaves, and his team clip and edit the information, then paste it into their database of 26,000 wines. Retailers send ChoiceMaster their inventory product codes, and the company sends back the matching wine descriptions.

What is to prevent a supplier from making inflated claims for a wine?

"The retailer is the line of defense," Mr. Greaves said.

Mr. Riley said: "One national producer added points to a score from one of the major wine reviewers. We caught it and told him to cut it out."

One alternative is the approach by Ferry Plaza Wine Merchants in San Francisco and 55 Degrees Wine & Design in Las Vegas. Both are creating their own databases of reviews and comments.

"If I own the store and I'm not editing the content, I'm not taking advantage of a branding opportunity," said Andrew Bradbury, the beverage director at 55 Degrees. So far, Mr. Bradbury and his staff have put in 100 wine descriptions from a total list of 1,400 wines.

Discovery Wines, scheduled to open this fall in the East Village in Manhattan, has a more laid-back approach. Shoppers there will be able to use one of 11 wall-mounted flat screens to browse through the collection or to scan a bottle's bar code and read the text that pops up. The text comes from the wineries and importers, who have direct access to Discovery Wine's database and put in their descriptions.

Ellisa Cooper, an owner, has no plans to stick her editing pencil between the suppliers and the customers.

"This is a point-of-sale marketing tool for wine suppliers," she said, adding that she was not worried that the suppliers would mislead customers. "My partners and I tasted 5,000 wines before settling on the 650 that we sell. I stand behind them."

No matter who writes the contents on these systems, Andrea Immer, the wine educator and retail consultant, said descriptions should be short and sweet. "People don't want to know the soil composition or the fact that the wine was aged two years in oak," she said. "Give them a cocktail party nugget about the wine. That's what they want — and to know that it's from a trusted source."