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Originally published March 7 2009

Wine Slashes Risk of Barrett's Esophagus

by Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor

(NaturalNews) According to the Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), Barrett's Esophagus is a condition marked by intestinal metaplasia. This means the tissue lining the esophagus (the muscular tube that runs from the mouth to the stomach) is replaced by tissue of the type that normally lines the intestines. The problem with having Barrett's Esophagus is that it can be a precursor to an often deadly malignancy -- cancer of the esophagus. In fact, the Mayo Clinic web site notes that people with Barrett's Esophagus have a 30 to 40 times elevated risk of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma (a type of esophageal cancer). And, unfortunately, there's no treatment for Barrett's Esophagus; it can only be monitored.

But new research just published in the March issue of the journal Gastroenterology concludes there's a non-drug way to slash the risk of developing Barrett's Esophagus. Scientists at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research have found that drinking one glass of wine a day appears to lower the chance of having Barrett's Esophagus by 56 percent. This is an important finding because esophageal cancer is not only difficult to treat and often lethal, but it is also the fastest growing cancer in the U.S., with an incidence rate that's jumped 500 percent over the last 30 years.

Most often, Barrett's Esophagus is the result of long-term gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), occurring when heartburn or acid reflux permanently damages the lining of the esophagus. There are no specific symptoms or warning signs of Barrett's Esophagus so most people with the condition only learn they have it when they undergo an endoscopy for anemia, heartburn or a bleeding ulcer and the test reveals the tell-tale esophageal cell changes.

The new study, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, is the first and largest population-based research designed to uncover links between alcohol consumption and the risk of Barrett's Esophagus. The Kaiser Permanente research team looked at 953 men and women in Northern California between 2002 and 2005 and found that those who drank one or more glasses of red or white wine a day had less than half the risk of Barrett's Esophagus. However, there was no reduction of Barrett's Esophagus risk among those who drank beer or liquor.

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

In addition, two additional studies published in the same issue of Gastroenterology back up the Kaiser Permanente findings. Australian scientists also found that people who drank wine had a reduced risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma, and Irish researchers reported wine drinkers were at a lower risk for esophagitis, an irritation of the esophagus that can result from chronic heartburn and often precedes Barrett's Esophagus and cancer.

The Kaiser Permanente research is part of larger, case-controlled Kaiser Permanente study led by Dr. Corley that has found other natural ways people can reduce their risk of Barrett's Esophagus -- including eating eight servings of fruits and vegetables a day and maintaining a normal body weight. "My advice to people trying to prevent Barrett's Esophagus is keep a normal body weight and follow a diet high in antioxidants and high in fruits and vegetables," Dr. Corley said in the press statement. "We already knew that red wine was good for the heart, so perhaps here is another added benefit of a healthy lifestyle and a single glass of wine a day."

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About the author

Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA's "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine's "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic's "Men's Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.

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