Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

April 05, 2004

Red wine fights cancer, leaves healthy cells alone, new study shows

Red wine may help fight and prevent breast cancer, new research by University of Guelph scientists reveals. The study also proves for the first time that the cancer-killing components in red wine do not adversely affect healthy cells.

“It’s really a very exciting finding,” said Gopi Paliyath, a U of G plant agriculture professor who conducted the study with human biology professor Kelly Meckling and graduate student Fatima Hakimuddin. “Breast cancer is a serious problem in Canada and in all of North America. About 10 per cent of women have a chance of developing it during their lifetime.”

The research appears in the May issue of Breast Cancer Research and Treatment released today.

U of G scientists compared the effects of three different flavonoid fractions (the nutraceutical components known for their antiviral and antioxidant function) found in red wine on human breast cancer cell lines and human healthy cells. “We discovered that some of the flavonoids can specifically attack the cancer cells, hence the cancer cells die,” Paliyath said. “But at the same time, the flavonoids do not have any harmful effects on the normal cells.”

Flavonoids appear to fight cancer by affecting the cell division process, which is highly regulated in normal cells but goes haywire in sick cells. It is possible that flavonoids bring the overactive “messenger systems” in the cells to their normal levels, stopping the division and the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells that can spread quickly, according to the study.

“This research could be used as a strategy for the development of novel anti-cancer drugs,” Paliyath said. “Using natural food sources may also help circumvent some of the other problems encountered with conventional chemotherapeutic treatments.”

By intervening in the cell’s messaging system, high-flavonoid red wine could also work to prevent breast cancer – and potentially other types of cancer with similar traits – from developing, he added. The researchers hope to study the cell messaging system further to determine exactly how the flavonoids intervene in the whole process.

Flavonoids – the major non-alcoholic components of wine – have already been shown to have a range of biological effects, including increasing the body’s antioxidant capacity and raising plasma levels of HDL or good cholesterol, Paliyath said.

Red wine is rich in flavonoids, in general containing between one and four grams per litre. The redder the wine, the better. “The intensity of the red colour in the wine is a reflection of many flavonoids it contains,” he said, adding that red wine contains about 10 to 20 times more flavonoids than white wine. The composition of flavonoids varies between wines, depending on factors such as fermentation conditions and grape selection. The wine used in the study was made from merlot grapes.

The researchers want to try raising the cancer-fighting components in wine by using grapes that have inherently higher levels of flavonoids. They also want to explore developing designer functional foods that would incorporate flavonoids, such as a concentrated grape powder drink mix. “Consumption of such products may then provide multiple levels of protection against the development of cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers,” Paliyath said.

Prof. Gopi Paliyath
Department of Plant Agriculture
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 54856

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982.

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