Published: Fri, January 05, 2018
Health Care | By Alberto Manning

'More Than Hangover': Alcohol Damages Stem Cells, Gives Rise to Cancer

'More Than Hangover': Alcohol Damages Stem Cells, Gives Rise to Cancer

In the study, published January 3 in the Nature journal, the researchers gave mice diluted alcohol then observed how it affected their DNA.

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.

They found that the chemical gave rise to permanent mutations in the mice's DNA sequences which could lead to various forms of cancers.

Patel: This work informs us of how alcohol causes damage to an important class of cells (stem cells) and how this could lead to cancer.

This was followed by observing the effects of DNA sequencing and chromosome analysis. But there is no evidence that drinkers are at a substantially increased risk of blood cancers, say experts, despite the new findings showing that drinking can alter the DNA in blood stem cells.

"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", Patel said. This clearly explains how all this results in an enhanced risk of developing cancer in the human body. Cancer is linked to seven types of cancer: liver, breast, bowel, upper throat, mouth, oesophageal and larynx. As a result, while they drink, acetaldehyde builds up, causing a flushed complexion along with as a feeling of discomfort. The scientists examine the genetic damage caused by this harmful chemical. Because alcohol seems to damage stem cells (at least in the blood) these changes can then be transmitted to many cells that are then subsequently created from a single stem cell.

The research found the body's first line of defence against damage caused by alcohol was a family of enzymes known as aldehyde dehydrogenases (ALDH).

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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.

"We combined transplantation of single haematopoietic stem cells with whole-genome sequencing to show that this damage occurs in stem cells, leading to deletions and rearrangements that are indicative of microhomology-mediated end-joining fix", the article's authors wrote.

They found that one of the substances produced as our bodies break down alcohol, known as acetaldehyde, physically breaks and damages the DNA held within blood stem cells.

Alongside new insights into the damage that ethanol causes to stem cells, the scientists uncovered new information about the protective mechanisms employed by our bodies in response to alcohol.

Warning others about the dangers of downing drinks has no effect on the likelihood they will do it, the research adds.

"This thought-provoking research highlights the damage alcohol can do to our cells, costing some people more than just a hangover", said Linda Bauld, a scientist with the group.

Alcohol consumption causes around four percent of cancers in the United Kingdom, or around 12,800 cases each year.

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