"To a long life" may be more than just a wine drinker's toast. First, researchers found that red wine helps keep the heart ticking. Now, studies show that a substance in grapes may prevent cancer.
Researchers working with cell cultures and laboratory animals have found that a substance in grapes called resveratrol can help keep cells from turning cancerous and inhibit the spread of cells that already are malignant.
John Pezzuto, senior author of a study to be published today in the journal Science, said his group conducted hundreds of tests looking for anti-cancer compounds in foods that were widely available and nontoxic. The grape, they found, was the best.
"Of all the plants we've tested for cancer chemopreventive activity and all the compounds we've seen, this one has the greatest promise," said Pezzuto.
The finding doesn't mean that eternal health is in the bottom of a wine bottle, but it does show that a diet loaded with fruits and vegetables is a good defense against cancer, said Pezzuto, leader of a food research group at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Resveratrol has been tested only in cell cultures and laboratory animals, but Pezzuto said the results offer the promise eventually of developing pills that will defend against cancer.
"My hope is that one day we will be taking a dietary supplement as a cancer preventative, just like many people now take multivitamins," said Pezzuto.
Dr. Michael J. Wargovich, a cancer researcher at M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston, said the discovery of resveratrol "really hits a home run in the range of activity it has against cancer." But the finding also suggests that there may be even more-powerful compounds in other natural foods.
Earlier studies have shown that wine, particularly red wine, can protect against heart disease by preventing formation of blood clots that can block arteries.
Resveratrol is found in 70 different plants, including mulberries and peanuts, but grapes and grape products are the richest source, Pezzuto said. All wines have some resveratrol, he said, but the highest concentration is in red wine, the type linked to lowering heart attack risk.