How drinking alcohol 'snaps' DNA, raising your cancer risk

06 Enero, 2018, 01:16 | Author: Enrique Watson
  • Scientists show how alcohol exposure leads to permanent genetic damage

Alcohol damages the DNA of stem cells responsible for producing new blood, according to a mouse study which may explain the link between drinking and cancer, scientists said on Wednesday.

Although alcohol isn't thought to cause blood cancers, blood stem cells offer a valuable way for scientists to investigate what's happening to the DNA inside. The researchers found that acetaldehyde snaps the DNA of stem cells, permanently altering the genetic code and triggering cancer.

Health watchdogs have long warned that alcohol consumption contributes to seven types of cancer - of the mouth, throat, larynx or voice box, oesophagus or food pipe, breast, liver and bowel.

She said: 'This is handsome work which puts our finger on the molecular basis for the link between alcohol and increased cancer risk and stem cells'.

Now researchers have found for the first time "a simple plausible explanation" of why alcohol can causes our cells to go haywire - by causing damage to our DNA.

Much previous research looking at the precise ways in which alcohol causes cancer has been done in cell cultures. But millions of people all over the world, especially in South East Asia, do not have these protective enzymes in their bodies, with the effect that alcohol consumption hides more risks for them. Unrepaired breaks can lead to large deletions and chromosome rearrangements, and the mutations are passed on to daughter cells that make up the blood.

Professor Ketan Patel, lead author of the study and scientist, part-funded by Cancer Research UK, at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, said: "Some cancers develop due to DNA damage in stem cells".

Normally, the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) quickly oxidizes acetaldehyde into acetate, which cells use as a source of energy.

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The study said that over 540 million people in Asia carry a mutation in the ALDH2 gene, which means they can't process acetaldehyde which causes the widely documented red flush reaction in Asians.

"But it's important to remember that alcohol clearance and DNA fix systems are not flawless and alcohol can still cause cancer in different ways, even in people whose defence mechanisms are intact". As a result, while they drink, acetaldehyde builds up, causing a flushed complexion along with as a feeling of discomfort.

They found that ALDH2-deficient mice had four times the cell damage as control mice with normal ALDH2 production.

The second line of defence involves a variety of DNA repair systems that allows cells to fix numerous different types of damage.

Professor Patel said: '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.

It has been estimated nearly six per cent of all cancer deaths worldwide could be attributed to alcohol.

"We know that alcohol contributes to over 12,000 cancer cases in the United Kingdom each year, so it's a good idea to think about cutting down on the amount you drink", she said.

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