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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Alcohol Causes Cancer and Premature Aging

It is possible that alcohol can affect you on a cellular level, changing the telomeres inside your DNA. What are telomeres? They are found at the region of DNA sequences at the end of a chromosome and they are crucial to the genetic stability of cells. Throughout life telomeres shorten naturally, alcohol induces unnatural shortening which, a new study says, could cause cancer and premature aging as well as many of the health ailments that that accompany. "Heavy alcohol users tend to look haggard, and it is commonly thought heavy drinking leads to premature aging and earlier onset of diseases of aging. In particular, heavy alcohol drinking has been associated with cancer at multiple sites," said lead researcher Andrea Baccarelli, M.D., Ph.D. Advances in our ability to study DNA and map the human genome is giving us insight into the effects of alcohol on the human body on the most important level.

Researchers using real-time polymerase chain reaction, measured serum DNA among:

  • 59 participants who abused alcohol (22 percent consumed four or more alcoholic drinks per day)
  • 197 participants with variable alcohol consumption habits (4 percent consumed four or more alcoholic drinks per day)

Those who consumed heavy amounts of alcohol had much shorter telomeres, about half the length of non-abusers (0.41 vs. 0.79 relative units). That is pretty long when you consider that this is all on a microscopic level and it makes you wonder what alcohol really does to the human body. Interestingly, those carriers of the variant genotype ADH1B were found to be more likely to abuse alcohol and congruently had shorter telomere length, according to Baccarelli. These facts bring to light the idea that one day we will be able to identify with accuracy people who carry the gene of alcoholism.

"All the cells in our body have a biological clock in telomeres," noted Baccarelli, who is head of the Center of Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology, Ca' Granda Hospital Foundation, University of Milan, Italy.

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