The harmful effects of alcohol on the human body are increasingly well known: today, a very comprehensive new study from Oxford shows it in all its evidence. Genetic analysis (very large-scale) suggests that alcohol consumption dramatically accelerates aging by shortening telomeres.
Results of absolute importance, if you consider that alcohol is one of the most used recreational substances (but let's also say drugs): for this reason, evaluating its precise impact on health has always been a goal of research. Currently, from the various studies already published we know that alcohol permanently damages DNA, directly causes cancer, contributes to cognitive decline and early dementia and can "age" brain performance for up to 10 years. It didn't even need proof of biological aging, did it? I mean, that beer will never taste the same again to me.
Alcohol, direct damage to telomeres
Telomeres are sequences of DNA that act as "caps" at the ends of chromosomes. A fraction of these "junk" sequences are lost with each cell division and eventually telomeres wear out enough to impact functional DNA. This causes the cell to stop dividing, which is why telomere length contributes to many of the biological markers of aging.
In the new study, researchers from Oxford Population Health examined the link between alcohol consumption and telomere length using data from more than 245.000 people. The team used a genetic technique known as Mendelian randomization (MR), which evaluates changes in certain genes. In this case, of course, they looked at genes known to be related to alcohol consumption and disorders.
There is a clear link between high alcohol intake and shorter telomeres: drinking 32 units of alcohol (about 11 glasses of wine) per week produces a shortening of telomeres equivalent to about three years of aging, compared to drinking only 10 units.
The results of this MR analysis also support observational studies on the weekly consumption habits reported by the participants. Which show similar results: those who drank more than 29 alcohol units (about 10 glasses of wine) per week showed a shortening of telomeres equivalent to one to two years of aging, compared to those who drank less than six units of alcohol (about two glasses of wine) per week.
In any case, this alcohol-telomere association seems to be really significant only starting from 17 units per week: this does not even save the classic "glass for lunch and dinner", which mythology considers beneficial. Just drink more than 5 glasses a week for the damage to begin.
The trials are strong, but they offer some signs of hope. The damage, for example, was found in all habitual drinkers, but not in people who never drank or who stopped drinking. In other words, an occasional period of revelry doesn't ruin you for life. Another useful clue: one gene in particular, AD1HB, appears to have a greater impact on alcohol metabolism. Good to know for any future therapies.
"These results support the thesis that alcohol, when taken at certain levels, directly affects telomere length," says Dr. Anya Topiwala, lead author of the study.
"It is a risk factor that can cause several serious age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease. Our results provide information for doctors and patients who want to reduce the harmful effects of alcohol. With an important message: also reduce the alcohol consumption could have some benefits. "
The research was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry (and I link it here).