Alcohol 'strongly linked to cancer', study finds

05 January, 2018, 14:34 | Author: Hope Soto
  • Budget 2017

The study also examined the body's mechanism of protecting itself against damage associated with alcohol exposures.

Patel: Our research suggests that alcohol causes cancer because, when the body breaks it down, it briefly converts it into acetaldehyde, which damages DNA if allowed to accumulate. The scientists were able to clearly find that the creation of acetaldehyde in the human liver permanently damages DNA in the blood stem cells.

To find out how it damages the body, scientists gave diluted alcohol to mice then sequenced their DNA and analysed their chromosomes.

The latest work showed that acetaldehyde slices through DNA, causing permanent damage, if the effects of the toxin are not neutralised by two natural defence mechanisms. This substance was found to be able to break down and distort DNA molecules within the blood stem cells.

"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.

"The more that a person drinks, and the longer the period of time, the greater their risk of development of cancer, especially head and neck cancers..."

The breakthrough is claimed to explain how seven types of tumours form, including those of the mouth and throat, liver, colon, bowel and breast. 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. Even minimal drinking might cause some level of DNA damage.

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In the British scientists' study, when mice lacking the critical ALDH enzyme (ALDH2) were given alcohol, it resulted in four times as much DNA damage in their cells compared with mice with the fully-functioning enzyme. A group of enzymes breaks down a unsafe chemical that the body produces when it breaks down alcohol.

"This damage results in DNA double-stranded breaks that, despite stimulating recombination fix, also cause chromosome rearrangements", the scientists write. Millions of people worldwide either lack or carry faulty versions of these enzymes.

"Actually the blood system has a very stringent quality control mechanism to get rid of anything that is damaged", said Patel, adding that this might explain why alcoholics tend to become severely anaemic. While research in animals does not always translate to humans, we already know that alcohol is linked to cancer. This means that toxic acetaldehyde builds up in the body.

Previous research looking at the precise ways in which alcohol causes cancer has been done in cell cultures.

Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK's expert on cancer prevention, said: "This thought-provoking research highlights the damage alcohol can do to our cells, costing some people more than just a hangover".

With alcohol consumption causing contributing to an over 12,000 cancer cases annually in the United Kingdom alone, scientists warn it's high time people started thinking about cutting down on what and how much they drink.


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