Researchers say the antioxidant found in grape skins, known as resveratrol, appears to work by targeting the cancer cell’s energy source from within and crippling it. When combined with radiation, treatment with resveratrol prior to radiation also induced cell death, an important goal of cancer treatment.

The researchers note that although resveratrol might reduce pancreatic cancer’s resistance to chemotherapy, “the impact of red wine consumption on chemotherapy remains unclear.” Researcher Paul Okunieff, MD, chief of radiation oncology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, says red wine consumption during chemotherapy or radiation treatment has not been well studied, but it’s not prohibited. Okunieff says if a cancer patient already drinks red wine moderately, most physicians wouldn’t tell the patient to give it up. But perhaps a better choice might be to drink as much red or purple grape juice, which also contains resveratrol, as desired.

“Antioxidant research is very active and very seductive right now,” Okunieff says in a news release. “The challenge lies in finding the right concentration and how it works inside the cell. In this case, we’ve discovered an important part of that equation. Resveratrol seems to have a therapeutic gain by making tumor cells more sensitive to radiation and making normal tissue less sensitive.”

In the study, published in Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, researchers examined the effects of a 50 microgram/milliliter dose of resveratrol on pancreatic cancer cells alone and in combination with radiation treatment. By comparison, the resveratrol concentration in red wine can be as high as 30 micrograms/milliliter.

The results showed that resveratrol had a variety of potentially valuable anti-cancer effects, including: making the cancer cells more sensitive to chemotherapy by hampering proteins that resist treatment, triggering cancer cell death (apoptosis), injuring the cancer cell’s energy source and decreasing its potential to function
“While additional studies are needed, this research indicates that resveratrol has a promising future as part of the treatment for cancer,” Okunieff says.