An ingredient in red wine can stop breast cancer cells growing and may combat resistant forms of the disease, research suggests.
Resveratrol, a plant chemical found in grapes and red wine, blocks the cancer-fuelling effects of the female hormone oestrogen, studies have shown. It can also inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells that have become hormone resistant, say scientists.
This could have important implications for women whose tumours are no longer responding to hormone therapies such as tamoxifen.
Hormone-sensitive tumours make up the vast majority of breast cancers.
Often they can be treated effectively with surgery and hormonal therapies. But in about half of all cases the cancer develops resistance and starts to spread.
Scientists in Italy used several lines of breast cancer cells, including some that were therapy resistant, to test the effects of resveratrol. They found that exposure to the chemical led to significant reductions in cell growth.
"Resveratrol is a potential pharmacological tool to be exploited when breast cancer becomes resistant to hormonal therapy," said study leader Dr Sebastanio Ando, from the University of Calabria. The results are published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology journal.
Editor Dr Gerald Weissmann said: "These findings are exciting, but in no way does it mean that people should go out and start using red wine or resveratrol supplements as a treatment for breast cancer. What it does mean, however, is that scientists haven't yet finished distilling the secrets of good health that have been hidden in natural products such as red wine."