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Breast Cancer Risk: Red Wine vs. White Wine

Modest lifestyle changes that include the avoidance of alcohol may cut the odds of breast cancer in half, but certain grapes appear to contain natural aromatase inhibitors that may undermine the ability of breast tumors to produce their own estrogen.

May 22, 2013 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited

L. M. Sánchez-Zamorano, L. Flores-Luna, A. Angeles-Llerenas, I. Romieu, E. Lazcano-Ponce, H. Miranda-Hernández, F. Mainero-Ratchelous, G. Torres-Mejía. Healthy lifestyle on the risk of breast cancer. Cancer Epidemiol. Biomarkers Prev. 2011 20(5):912 - 922

J. P. Pierce, M. L. Stefanick, S. W. Flatt, L. Natarajan, B. Sternfeld, L. Madlensky, W. K. Al-Delaimy, C. A. Thomson, S. Kealey, R. Hajek, B. A. Parker, V. A. Newman, B. Caan, C. L. Rock. Greater survival after breast cancer in physically active women with high vegetable-fruit intake regardless of obesity. J. Clin. Oncol. 2007 25(17):2345 - 2351

D. M. Parkin, L. Boyd. 4. Cancers attributable to dietary factors in the UK in 2010. I. Low consumption of fruit and vegetables. Br. J. Cancer 2011 105 (Suppl 2):S19 - S23

C. Shufelt, C. N. B. Merz, Y. Yang, J. Kirschner, D. Polk, F. Stanczyk, M. Paul-Labrador, G. D. Braunstein. Red versus white wine as a nutritional aromatase inhibitor in premenopausal women: A pilot study. J Womens Health (Larchmt) 2012 21(3):281 - 284

S. M. Zhang, I.-M. Lee, J. E. Manson, N. R. Cook, W. C. Willett, J. E. Buring. Alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk in the Women's Health Study. Am. J. Epidemiol. 2007 165(6):667 - 676

S. Chen, X. Z. Sun, Y. C. Kao, A. Kwon, D. Zhou, E. Eng. Suppression of breast cancer cell growth with grape juice. Pharmaceutical biology 1998 36(Suppl 1):53 - 61

D. Romaguera, A.-C. Vergnaud, P. H. Peeters, C. H. van Gils, D. S. M. Chan, P. Ferrari, I. Romieu, M. Jenab, N. Slimani, F. Clavel-Chapelon, G. Fagherazzi, F. Perquier, R. Kaaks, B. Teucher, H. Boeing, A. von Rüsten, A. Tjonneland, A. Olsen, C. C. Dahm, K. Overvad, J. R. Quirós, C. A. Gonzalez, M. J. Sánchez, C. Navarro, A. Barricarte, M. Dorronsoro, K.-T. Khaw, N. J. Wareham, F. L. Crowe, T. J. Key, A. Trichopoulou, P. Lagiou, C. Bamia, G. Masala, P. Vineis, R. Tumino, S. Sieri, S. Panico, A. M. May, H. B. Bueno-de-Mesquita, F. L. Büchner, E. Wirfält, J. Manjer, I. Johansson, G. Hallmans, G. Skeie, K. B. Borch, C. L. Parr, E. Riboli, T. Norat. Is concordance with World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research guidelines for cancer prevention related to subsequent risk of cancer? Results from the EPIC study. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2012 96(1):150 - 163

E. T. Eng, D. Williams, U. Mandava, N. Kirma, R. R. Tekmal, S. Chen. Anti-aromatase chemicals in red wine. Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 2002 963(1):239 - 246


Images thanks to walknboston, Peggy Greb, André Karwath and Scott Bauer, U.S. Department of Agriculture via Wikimedia Commons.  Thanks to Maxim Fetissenko, PhD and Laurie-Marie Pisciotta for their help with keynote!


After diagnosis, women with breast cancer may cut their risk of dying nearly in half—estrogen-receptor positive; estrogen receptor negative—just instituting simple, modest lifestyle changes, 5 or more servings fruits and veggies a day and just like walking 30 minutes a day, 6 days a week. But what about preventing breast cancer in the first place?

If you actually follow the advice of the official dietary guidelines for cancer prevention does it actually reduce your risk of cancer? If you manage your weight, eat more plant foods, less animal foods, less alcohol and breastfeed if you're a woman, based on the largest prospective study on diet and cancer in history, you may significantly lower your risk of breast cancer, endometrial cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer, kidney cancer, stomach cancer, UADT cancer—you don't want to get cancer in your UADT, believe me—no, that means basically oral cancer, as well as lower risk for liver cancer, esophageal cancer, and all cancers combined.

Of all the recommendations, the "Eat mostly foods of plant origin" appeared the most powerful. For example a study in the UK found that in just one year in Britain there were14,902 excess cases of cancer caused by something they were exposed to 10 years earlier. What was that something that ended up causing thousands of cancers? Deficient intake of fruit and vegetables. If that was some instead chemical spill or something causing 14 thousand cancers, people would be up and arms to ban it, but instead when that killer carcinogen is not eating their fruit and veg, as the Brits would say, it hardly get's anyone's attention.

What if you throw in smoking too? Researchers created a healthy lifestyle index, defined by four things: #1 exercise, #2, a dietary shift away from the standard American diet high in meat, dairy, fat, and sugar towards a more prudent dietary pattern—for instance green and yellow vegetables, beans, and fruits. #3 avoidance of tobacco and #4 avoidance of alcohol. If young, women scoring higher on those four things may cut their odds of getting breast cancer in half, and older women may cut their odds of breast cancer 80%!

We've covered how even light drinking can increase breast cancer risk, but for women who refuse to eliminate alcohol, which is less carcinogenic, red wine or white? Well some studies, such as the Harvard Women's Health Study suggest less or even no risk from red wine and we may have just figured out why. Remember how mushrooms were the vegetable best able to suppress the activity of aromatase, the enzyme used by breast tumors to produce its own estrogen? Well if you run the same human placenta experiments with fruit, strawberries get the silver, but grapes get the gold.

But what kind of grapes? The whimpy green grapes used to make white wine didn't work, compared to those used for making red.  Bottom line, "red wine may serve as a nutritional aromatase inhibitor, which may ameliorate the elevated breast cancer risk associated with alcohol intake." But why accept any elevated risk, by instead just eating grapes. And if you do, chose ones with seeds if you can, as they may work even better. 

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.

To help out on the site please email

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

My reference to the cancer risk associated with even light drinking (up to one drink per day) is explored in Breast Cancer and Alcohol: How Much is Safe? 

Wasn't there a study that found that fruits and vegetables weren't protective against cancer, though? See my video on the EPIC Study

For more on the aromatase story, see:

More on grapes in Fat Burning Via Flavonoids and Best Fruit Juice.

What if you already have breast cancer, though? Well, Cancer Prevention and Treatment May Be the Same Thing, but I do have been a few studies on breast cancer survival and diet:

Also, be sure to check out my associated blog post for more context:  Breast Cancer & Alcohol: How Much Is Safe? and Breast Cancer and Wine.

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • Marty

    The last comment in the video was to eat red grapes with seeds. I’d like too but they are no longer produced. They’re not even availabe at health food stores. I’ve asked for them but I’m told there is no demand. So next time you’re at your store, let your voice be heard.

  • cpgraettinger

    do you need to eat the seeds or is there something inherently different about the flesh of gapes that have seeds?

    • vegan2u

      Eat the seeds! Very nutritious

  • David

    I love todays video for a number of reasons: 1) It shows women, without going thru breast removal surgery as to how they can decrease the risk of breast cancer (as well as cancer in general, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and the list goes on and on). 2) Many state that drinking wine has health advantages – as the video indicates its best to eat the grape, receive the health benefits and avoid the down side of alcohol, such as the fact that alcohol attacks fatty tissue, much of what the brain in composed of! 3) The video emphasizes the importance of not putting off a transition toward healthier eating, because when a symptom appears, such as dementia for example, its the result of what the person has been consuming for the last 10-20 years! What we do today determines our tomorrows.

    Thanks Dr Greger for another great lesson in health !

  • vegan2u

    Dr Greger, Great info, I saw somewhere that you were on Dr Oz, has it aired? If so, please let me know when or when it intends to air..thank you

  • Thea

    Nice special effects. (the twinkling) Sort of reminded me of your older videos where we got to guess before you revealed an answer. I really like that format. I gets my brain into more active listening.

    But I gotsa say, I aint eaten no seeds! :-0

  • Ronald Chavin

    Dr. Greger seems to contradict himself between his videos on light alcohol drinking:

  • Jean

    I believe I read somewhere that wine confers cardiovascular benefits above and beyond grapes because of some chemical that is produced in the fermentation process. I wonder if the same might be true for this aromatase activity of red wine. OK – I’ll admit it – I’m a woman who loves red wine (and drinks it in moderation).

    • Lyra

      Here’s to women who love their wine! :) That said, I’m grateful for this new info because now I know how to lower my risk by choosing the right wine. And I love red wine far better than white, anyway, so this is good news indeed. Seems to me that if you are eating right (vegan), exercising regularly, and getting your five to nine servings of fruits and vegies, drinking in moderation is less risky. But I’d like to see more studies. The trouble is, most of these studies are carried out with subjects who eat meat and/or dairy, not with vegans. So I wonder how vegans wine drinkers would stack up agains people who don’t consume wine or alcohol but do eat a standard American diet centered on meat and dairy consumption. I’d be willing to wager that the vegan wine drinkers would still have much lower cancer risk due to a healthier lifestyle overall. To your health… Salud!


    Is there any research that compares alcohol consumption with a standard American diet to alcohol consumption with a plant based diet? Does not alcohol speed some things into the blood stream that might otherwise pass through the system?

    • Don Forrester MD

      I’m not aware of any studies on alcohol consumption and SAD vs plant based diet. I also don’t know any studies that show interference of the absorption of nutrients by alcohol. However, alcohol consumption should be limited as it is viewed by the body as a toxin creating a myriad of effects on all systems (e.g. nervous, arterial, liver, endocrine). It is common to see vitamin deficiencies in folks who drink a lot of alcohol due to the lack of consumption of healthy foods. Alcohol(7) is more calorie dense then carbohydrates(4) or protein(4)… not as calorie dense as oil(9).

  • Bike123

    White wine comes from red grapes, but is separated immediately from the skins and seeds.

  • Darryl

    BTW, white wine is produced from the same grapes as red; they just discard the skins (and most of the intriguing polyphenols) for white wine production.

    Wine has resveratrol, beer has zantholhumol, but its possible ethanol itself is a hormetin, with positive effects, even on cancer mortality, at around one serving per day. See figure 4:

    Jin, M., et al. “Alcohol drinking and all cancer mortality: a meta-analysis.” Annals of Oncology 24.3 (2013): 807-816.

  • Jitka

    In Italy there are no grapes without seeds. In Britain there are no grapes with seed . Which is more natural? British grapes are are sterile, fruitless fruits!!

  • DragonDad

    You can get grape seed oil to replace eating the grape seeds

  • Stephen Lucker Kelly

    I was just wondering if you know any websites that focus more on plant based nutrition in the UK? As this is mostly centred round the US? So do you know a good doctor I can follow on plant based nutrition who focuses more on sources in the uk?

  • Rubal

    Hi Dr. Greger, I’m a US medical student and fully support your website. There is absolutely nothing like it out there that I’ve come across! I was hoping you would shed some light on Resveratrol supplements as there have been so many studies but its getting hard for me to wrap my head around all the information. Thank you so much for your work!!

  • Sebastian Tristan

    I must have missed this one: Are you saying that Red wine isn’t healthy after all?