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Study reveals how alcohol damages DNA, raises cancer risk

05 January 2018, 02:31 | Rodolfo Wallace

Study reveals how alcohol damages DNA, raises cancer risk

Alcohol consumption increases cancer risk by triggering DNA damage

Drinking alcohol doesn't just damage the liver and kidneys - turns out it could increase cancer risks and damage DNA as well.

Our previous research revealed the principle mechanism that protects us from alcohol-induced DNA damage.

ALCOHOL can give some people more than simply a hangover, according to new research that shows how it damages DNA in stem cells, thereby increasing the risk of cancer.

The recent work showed that acetaldehyde slices through DNA, causing permanent damage, if the effects of the toxin are not neutralized by two natural defense mechanism.

The team got the mice drunk with diluted alcohol, or ethanol, then used chromosome analysis and DNA sequencing to gauge the genetic damage.

Beer, wine and spirits can irreversibly damage the body's reserve of stem cells, and eventually lead to deadly mutations of their DNA. Bits of DNA were deleted, bits were broken and we even saw parts of chromosomes being moved about and rearranged. In addition, the new insight into the function of p53 in blood stem cells may explain why certain blood cancers become resistant to chemotherapy.

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"How exactly alcohol causes damage to us is controversial", study coauthor Ketan Patel of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology tells The Guardian. Most life on Earth, from bacteria to mammals, also possess this protective mechanism, but, unlike humans, they have not yet developed the capacity to manufacture alcohol on an industrial scale for consumption. There are seven common cancers that have been confidently linked to alcohol: mouth, upper throat, laryngeal, oesophageal, breast, liver, and bowel. Translating these results to humans means that, for some people, drinking alcohol could be exponentially more risky depending on their individual ability to process acetaldehyde. The scientists examine the genetic damage caused by this harmful chemical.

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

When the body breaks down alcohol, it briefly converts it into a chemical called acetaldehyde For most people, acetaldehyde is only a temporary by-product of alcohol, before it is oxidized by the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2). However, there weren't many studies that explained the process leading to the growth of these cells.

In particular, the scientists found that acetaldehyde, an endogenous and alcohol-derived metabolite, can break and damage DNA within blood stem cells. Millions of people worldwide either lack or carry faulty versions of these enzymes.

"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", Professor Linda added. "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".

"Alcohol contributes to over 12,000 cancer cases in the UK each year", says Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK's expert on cancer prevention.



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