Alcohol 'can damage DNA and elevate risk of cancer'

Pouring alcohol in shot glasses

Researchers at the United Kingdom -based Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology found that alcohol abuse can cause permanent damage to the DNA in the stem cells in charge of blood production. Studies have shown it doesn't matter which type of alcohol one drinks - wine, beer or liquor.

What wasn't clear, however, was how alcohol did its damage.

Drinking alcohol may cause irreversible damage to the DNA of stem cells and increase the risk of developing certain cancers, a new study has revealed.

Researchers in London have found that alcoholism damages DNA.

In the study, scientists analyzed animals' DNA before and after drinking. Some of the mice were genetically engineered to remove two crucial mechanisms that protect against the harmful side effects of alcohol metabolism, leaving the mice vulnerable. Acetaldehyde, a molecule produced by the breakdown of alcohol, badly damages DNA in cells, which in turn can lead to mutations and cancer, earlier studies have found. However, this defense system isn't airtight, said Patel. The damage done on these mice by alcohol was four times bigger than on those with the protective enzyme. "That level of damage is not very dissimilar to having spent a short period of time in front of Fukushima".

But some people lack the enzymes responsible for this process and are more likely to get sick. However, if the DNA is repaired incorrectly, it can lead to cancer.

"It is important to understand how the DNA blueprint within stem cells is damaged because when healthy stem cells become faulty, they can give rise to cancer". Majority happen by pure chance, but it turns out that drinking alcohol might make stem cells feebler.

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"It's important to remember that alcohol clearance and DNA fix systems are not ideal, and alcohol can still cause cancer in different ways - even in people whose defense mechanisms are intact", said professor Ketan Patel, lead author of the study.

"Most of our organs and tissues have stem cells, immortal cells that replenish cells lost through the likes of old age throughout our lives, and the hematopoietic system is no exception", Alison said in a statement.

Scientists at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, gave diluted alcohol, chemically known as ethanol, to mice.

Cancer Research UK estimates that about 4 percent of cancers in the UK are caused by alcohol. "In many of these studies, there are other concerning variables". Alcohol is believed to be a contributing factor to at least seven types of cancer, including cancers of the blood, breast, mouth and neck, and digestive tract, Patel said.

"These claims are based on epidemiological studies on population groups", Patel said.

The current research, however, did not focus on that question.