DEAR DR. BLONZ: I continue to hear that wine has health benefits and isn't really a problem unless you overdo it. I have been a wine drinker, but do not want to put myself in harm's way. -- W.D., Sacramento, California
DEAR W.D.: There is research evidence that a moderate intake of alcohol can raise the level of HDLs (high density lipoproteins), the desirable cholesterol-containing component of the blood. Alcohol also has an ability to inhibit the rate at which the platelets in our blood clump together. Both effects are protective against heart disease, but only for moderate intakes, one to two drinks per day (more on this at tinyurl.com/5fdocy). Red wine also contains phytochemical compounds with promising benefits -- not surprising since they come from the skin of fruit that sits in the sun but has the responsibility of protecting the vitality of the seeds inside.
There have been population studies that have shown a correlation between alcohol consumption and an increased risk of breast cancer, an ominous, but significantly lower risk than heart disease. But who wants to be in a position of balancing one risk with another?
Folate (folic acid), an essential nutrient, may help here. This nutrient has many roles, including involvement in the synthesis of DNA and RNA, the genetic material involved in cell division and reproduction. The Daily Value for folate is 400 micrograms per day, the best food sources including dark green leafy vegetables, peanuts, citrus fruits, tomatoes, strawberries, beans, liver and fortified cereals.
Research from Harvard University, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that the alcohol-related risk of breast cancer may be reduced if there is an adequate intake of folate. This study looked at data gathered from 88,818 women participating in the ongoing Nurses' Health Study. Although they found no overall relationship between the intake of folic acid and the incidence of breast cancer, there was a connection in those consuming alcohol.
In the women that consumed at least 15 grams of alcohol per day (a standard drink contains about 14 grams), an intake of 400 micrograms of folate was associated with a reduction of the normally associated risk. For those women consuming above 15 grams of alcohol per day, an intake of 600 micrograms of folate was needed to reduce the normally seen risk.
To put it simply, yes, alcohol may increase the breast cancer risk, but a healthful, plant-based diet with sufficient folate appears may help mitigate some of that risk. The results were evident with both pre- and postmenopausal women. Understand that exceeding the moderate intake does increase risk (for more, see tinyurl.com/zfosw5y).
Many caveats: Alcohol can have dangerous and sometimes deadly side effects. Do not drink if you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant; if you have a medical condition or are taking medications that can be affected by alcohol; if you or any member of your family has a history of alcoholism; if you are under the legal drinking age; if you are planning on driving, operating heavy machinery or participating in any activity that requires you to be alert.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to email@example.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.