New research co-funded by Cancer Research UK took a look at the effects of alcohol on DNA. In the past, scientific research has revealed that alcohol increases cancer risk. Now, this new study explains, in part, why the alcohol-cancer connection exists.
Alcohol Increases Cancer Risk by Damaging DNA
In the study, scientists at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology at Cambridge were able to show how alcohol leads to permanent genetic damage. They administered diluted alcohol to mice in a laboratory setting. Then, they examined the impact of acetaldehyde on the mice’s DNA. Acetaldehyde is a chemical that the body produces when it processes alcohol.
The researchers found that this particular chemical can break and damage DNA located in stem cells located in the blood. This can lead to permanently altering DNA sequences of these cells.
Professor Ketan Patel, who was the lead author of the study out of MRC Laboratory, stated:
Some cancers develop due to DNA damage in stem cells. While some damage occurs by chance, our findings suggest that drinking alcohol can increase the risk of this damage.
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Consequently, this type of research is allowing scientists to better understand why and how drinking alcohol increases the risk for certain types of cancers. Currently, alcohol consumption is linked to a higher risk of 7 types of cancer, including breast and bowel.
The Body’s Defenses Aren’t Foolproof
The body is an amazing organism with many defense systems in place. In this case, the body produces enzymes called ALDH that help break down harmful acetaldehyde. Yet, there are millions of people worldwide who lack the ability to produce ALDH effectively. These people run the biggest risk of suffering from ailments caused by acetaldehyde build-up.
In their research, Patel and his team found that DNA damage in stem cells was four times more frequent in mice that lacked the critical ALDH2 enzyme.
Secondly, the body is also capable to repairing damaged DNA. Specific DNA repair systems can often fix and reverse DNA damage, yet not always. Particularly, some people’s bodies aren’t able to effectively perform these repairs due to certain types of mutations.
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Our study highlights that not being able to process alcohol effectively can lead to an even higher risk of alcohol-related DNA damage and therefore certain cancers. But it’s important to remember that alcohol clearance and DNA repair systems are not perfect and alcohol can still cause cancer in different ways, even in people whose defense mechanisms are intact.
Alcohol’s Overall Effect on the Body
Drinking alcohol is very common, regardless of the negative effects on the body. But let’s consider the potential dangers. Mercola reports that alcohol consumption:
- Depresses your central nervous system, including the limbic system that controls emotions, the prefrontal cortex that governs reasoning and judgment, and the cerebellum that plays a role in muscle activity and impacts balance.
- Increases liver stiffness, which increases your risk of liver cirrhosis.
- Diminishes the formation of memories due to ethanol buildup in the brain. Alcohol also causes your hippocampus to shrink, which affects memory and learning.
- Promotes systemic inflammation. In other words, your body reacts to alcohol in the same way as it reacts to injury or infection.
- Increases stress on your heart, raising your risk for cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, high blood pressure and stroke.
- Significantly increases endotoxin levels. In other words, alcohol causes gut damage allowing bacteria to escape from your gut into your blood stream.
- In terms of chronic disease, studies have linked excessive alcohol consumption with an increased risk for poor immune function (which raises your risk for most diseases), pancreatitis and cancer.
There’s no denying it, alcohol consumption has become so normalized in our society that moderate drinking is considered normal. Yet, this does not necessarily mean that it is safe for everyone. Limiting consumption or abstaining altogether are the best ways to mitigate the potential harm that alcohol can do to the body.
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