Harvard Men's Health Watch

Red wine and prostate cancer

Alcohol has been called the Jekyll and Hyde of health, which summarizes the age-old dispute about the pros and cons of drinking. As scientists have accumulated information about how alcohol affects the human mind and body, a balanced picture is starting to emerge. A study may add some color to the picture, since it raises the hope that red wine may reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

Alcohol and health

On the positive side of the ledger, moderate alcohol use is associated with protection against atherosclerosis, the disease that puts cholesterol-rich plaques just where they are least welcome, in the walls of the arteries. Although many studies of men and women from around the world report a substantial benefit from alcohol, three Harvard studies are particularly relevant to American men. The Health Professionals Follow-up Study, the Physicians' Health Study, and the Harvard Alumni Study have all reported that men who drink modestly enjoy substantial protection against angina, first heart attacks, recurrent heart attacks, sudden cardiac death, and ischemic strokes. The magnitude of protection varies with the problem but ranges from 20% to 56%. And the Harvard studies report other possible benefits of low-dose alcohol, including a reduced risk of diabetes, symptomatic benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), and erectile dysfunction.

That's the good news. The bad news is that alcohol gets the blame for almost 100,000 deaths in the United States each year. Liver disease and accidents are among the biggest alcohol-related problems, but others include high blood pressure, damage to the heart muscle, brain damage, pancreatitis, osteoporosis, intestinal bleeding, and cancers of the mouth, voice box, and upper digestive tract. Alcohol has also caused countless psychosocial and economic problems.

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