This year close to a million and a half people worldwide will be diagnosed with lung cancer. Many of them will die. The majority of these cancer cases are caused by smoking tobacco, and quitting smoking is the best way to reduce the chances of developing the disease.
But researchers say there's another way to reduce the lung-cancer risk – drinking red wine.
Chun Chao is a research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente health system in California. She and her colleagues surveyed more than 80,000 men. The researchers gave them questionnaires asking about their health and eating habits, including their red wine consumption.
"We observed those men who drank one to two glasses of red wine per day had a lower risk of lung cancer compared to those who did not drink red wine," Chao says.
Indeed, the red wine drinkers' risk was reduced by about 60 percent. The study showed that for every glass ofa man drank in a month, his risk of cancer dropped by 2 percent.
Chao says the effect may be due to chemicals called antioxidants. These are powerful chemicals occurring naturally in many fruits and vegetables. Scientists believe these antioxidants serve to protect cells from the chemical damage that results from normal metabolism and aging.
"There appears to be a very rich antioxidant component in red wines," Chao says. "Because grape skin contains a lot of antioxidants, and grape skin is included in the fermentation process in red wine but not in white wine, for example."
But even with its protective benefits, drinking red wine can't eliminate the risk of lung cancer in someone who continues to smoke.
"If you smoke, your first advice is really to quit smoking," Chao says.
"Smoking increases the risk of lung cancer so much, even those men who drink a couple of glasses of red wine per day... still face a much higher risk of lung cancer compared to nonsmokers."
However, Chao says more research is needed into how red wine's antioxidants may be able to treat or prevent lung cancer.
Her research is published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. It's published by the American Association for Cancer Research.