Drinking Wine May Lower Risk of Barrett's Esophagus

March 10, 2009

The risk of developing Barrett’s Esophagus can be lowered by more than 50% with the consumption of one glass of wine a day, according to the results of a new study.

The risk of developing Barrett’s Esophagus can be lowered by more than 50% with the consumption of one glass of wine a day, according to the results of a new study conducted by researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research.

For the population-based study—the largest of its kind yet to explore the link between the risk of Barrett’s Esophagus and alcohol consumption—953 men and women in northern California were monitored between 2002 and 2005. Although participants who drank at least one glass of white or red wine per day experienced a more than 50% reduction in the risk for developing Barrett’s Esophagus, no such link was seen among those who drank beer or liquor. Further, the preventative properties of wine were most significant with the consumption of only one glass per day.

"The rate of esophageal adenocarcinoma in this country is skyrocketing yet very little is known about its precursor, Barrett's Esophagus,” said Douglas A. Corley, MD, a Kaiser Permanente gastroenterologist and the study's principal investigator. “We are trying to figure out how to prevent changes that may lead to esophageal cancer.”

Researchers did not have a conclusive reason as to why drinking one glass of wine per day reduced the risk of Barrett’s Esophagus, but one hypotheses was that the antioxidants in the wine neutralized the oxidative damage that resulted from gastro-esophageal reflux disease. Another is that wine drinkers typically take in food with the alcohol—which reduces the damage of alcohol on esophageal tissue—instead of consuming straight without food, as is seen more often with beer and liquor drinkers.

“It’s not actually clear that treating the acid reflux will necessarily prevent someone from getting Barrett’s Esophagus,” said Corley. “The best way to prevent reflux is to maintain a normal weight.”

Findings of the study were published in the March issue of Gastroenterology, which also included the results of another study, where researchers from Australia and Ireland found that people who drank wine were at a lower risk for both esophageal adenocarcinoma and esophagitis.