Health Topics

Q&A: Is Drinking Wine Good for Women or Not?

Q. I thought that drinking red wine was good for your heart. Now I read that it can cause breast cancer. Should I give up my nightly pinot noir?

A. Many women have taken to drinking one glass of red wine in the evening ever since researchers linked it to a reduced risk of heart disease. But recent reports that all types of alcohol, including wine, increase a woman’s chances of breast cancer understandably raise concern.

Heart disease and breast cancer are two of the greatest health risks women face. Heart disease is the leading cause of death, and breast cancer is the most common cancer and the second most common cause of cancer death (after lung cancer) among women.

Drinking wine is a modifiable – and likely vastly underestimated – risk factor for breast cancer. Researchers from Kaiser Permanente obtained health information about breast cancer from more than 70,000 women over an eight-year period; they also studied the type and amount of alcohol normally consumed.

Their study showed that consuming one to two alcoholic beverages (for example, one 5-oz. glass of wine) daily raised women’s risk of breast cancer by 10 percent. That risk jumped to 30 percent when women had three or more drinks per day.

The study also showed that the increased risk could be somewhat offset by ingesting the recommended daily amount of folate or folic acid (400 mcg). Both are forms of vitamin B9. Folate occurs naturally in green, leafy vegetables, citrus fruits and dried beans, while folic acid, which is better absorbed, is synthetic and mainly found in multivitamins.

My recommendation for women is this: If you want to drink wine, limit your intake to four glasses or fewer per week, and be sure to take a multivitamin every day.

By Holly Pederson, MD, medical breast specialist in Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Specialized Women’s Health.