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According to a recent article published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, consumption of red wine may reduce the risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in men.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) is a cancer of the lymph tissue, which is part of the body’s immune system. Lymph tissue is present in lymph nodes, lymph vessels, blood and bone marrow, which exist throughout the body. It is also present in organs such as the thymus, tonsils and spleen. The main cells in the lymph system are lymphocytes, of which there are two types: B and T-cells. Each of these cells has a very specific function in aiding the body to fight infection. The large majority of NHL cases involves cancer of the B-lymphocytes and characterized by the excessive accumulation of these atypical cells. This results in overcrowding of blood and lymph tissue, suppressing the formation and function of blood and immune cells that are normally present. Additionally, the cancerous lymphocytes themselves do not function normally, leading to a further decrease in the ability of the body to fight infection. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is further categorized according to how fast the cancer cells are growing, with aggressive NHL referring to cancer cells that grow and spread rapidly while low-grade or indolent NHL refers to the slowest growing type of cancer.

Researchers have been evaluating different lifestyle variables, including diet and exercise, which may be contributing or preventive factors in the development of various cancers. Previous clinical studies have indicated that red wine consumption appears to reduce the risk of development of some cancers. Recently, researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health evaluated data from 960 men, aged 32 to 60 years, who were diagnosed with NHL between 1984 to 1988 from 8 U.S.-based cancer registries. They also compared a group of over 1,700 men of matched ages who did not have NHL (control group). The researchers compared a variety of factors, including alcohol consumption, between the two groups of men.

Men who did not start drinking alcohol early in life and consumed one drink of red wine per day or more than one drink of red wine per day had a 20% and 40% reduction in the risk of developing NHL, respectively. Men who did start drinking alcohol early in life and consumed one drink or more than one drink of red wine per day had a 60% and 70% reduced risk of developing NHL, respectively. The ingestion of beer or hard alcohol did not appear to have any protective effect against the development of NHL.

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These researchers concluded that drinking red wine may actually reduce the risk of developing NHL in men. This study introduces more data citing protective effects of red wine on some cancers. However, it is important for patients to speak with their physician regarding these results prior to altering drinking habits.

Reference: Briggs NC, Levine1 RS, Bobo LD et al. Wine drinking and risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma among men in the United States: a population-based case-control study. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2002;156:454-462.

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