Study finds unexpected link between white wine and melanoma

For all the white wine connoisseurs who love their glass of Chardonnay, it might be time to switch to a red merlot. Recent research has revealed that white wine appears to be associated with increasing melanoma or skin cancer risk.

It has been known that alcohol is responsible for about 4% of all cancer cases worldwide. Typical cancers that have an association with alcohol include esophageal, breast, colon, pancreas, liver and rectal. Now a recent study is adding a new type of cancer to this list which has not previously been on the radar – melanoma which is the deadliest form of skin cancer

The study, published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, collected data spanning an 18-year period from three large studies involving 210,252 participants who provided information on their drinking habits and health history, including details on sunburns and tanning.  At follow-up, 1,374 participants – less than 1% - had been diagnosed with invasive melanoma.

From their questions regarding each participant’s alcohol consumption, it showed that each drink per day was associated with a 14% higher risk of melanoma. A standard drink was defined as 12.8 grams of pure alcohol or about the amount found in one beer, a glass of wine, or a shot of hard liquor. 

After analyzing each beverage’s association with melanoma, one drink stood out from all the rest demonstrating a significant link to skin cancer development– white wine. With each glass of white wine per day consumed, there was a 13% increased risk of developing melanoma. The other forms of alcohol did not have a statistically significant effect on increasing melanoma risk.

White wine’s association with melanoma

It is not completely understood the connection between white wine and melanoma but a possible explanation could be that the ethanol in alcohol metabolizes into a compound called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde can do damage to DNA along with preventing DNA repair throughout the body. The researchers from the study stated that acetaldehyde is a well known carcinogen which could be the mechanism as to how alcohol related to cancer at other sites.

Previous research has shown that white wine does have higher levels of acetaldehyde than that of beer or spirits. Red wine has a higher antioxidant content which may offset the risks of these compounds.

Because the study was observational and only included white people, it was not able to determine a cause-and-effect relationship between alcohol or white wine in general and higher melanoma rates.

In conclusion

The study authors emphasized that melanoma has many risk factors associated withit – not wearing sunscreen, frequent exposure to the sun, moles, fair-complexion or a family history. Some of the risk factors cannot be changed but one change a person can make is their consumption of alcohol. The American Cancer Society already does recommend limiting alcohol consumption for lowering all types of cancer but at the same time does note that moderate alcohol consumption has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease. 

For now, it looks like white wine lovers may need to consider limiting this beverage to special occasions and in the meantime, choose a good red wine as a perfect substitute.