A team of American and Italian scientists have discovered that resveratrol -- the "healthy" ingredient found in red wine -- can stop breast cancer cells from growing by blocking the growth effects of estrogen.
The discovery suggests for the first time that resveratrol is able to counteract the malignant progression since it inhibits the proliferation of hormone resistant breast cancer cells.
This has important implications for the treatment of women with breast cancer whose tumors eventually develop resistance to hormonal therapy.
"Resveratrol is a potential pharmacological tool to be exploited when breast cancer become resistant to the hormonal therapy," said Sebastiano Ando, a researcher involved in the work from the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Calabria in Italy.
Ando and his colleagues used several breast cancer cell lines expressing the estrogen receptor to test the effects of resveratrol.
They then treated the different cells with resveratrol and compared their growth with cells left untreated.
They found an important reduction in cell growth in cells treated by resveratrol, while no changes were seen in untreated cells.
Additional experiments revealed that this effect was related to a drastic reduction of estrogen receptor levels caused by resveratrol itself.
The researchers, however, cautioned that the finding does not mean people should start using red wine or resveratrol supplements as a treatment for breast cancer.
The finding appears in the October 2011 issue of FASEB Journal.