Study Examines Link Between Alcohol, Cancer and Aging
This connection was identified in a cross-sectional study conducted for the American Association for Cancer Research. Background on this study demonstrates that telomeres are found at the region of the DNA sequences at the end of a chromosome and are important for the genetic stability of cells. As an individual ages, telomere length shortens progressively.
The excessive use of alcohol has in the past been linked to oxidative stress and inflammation, both mechanisms that are known to accelerate telomere shortening. This shortening is thought to increase cancer risk and researchers speculate that those with shorter telomeres as a result of heavy alcohol consumption will have an increased risk of cancer.
"Heavy alcohol users tend to look haggard, and it is commonly thought heavy drinking leads to premature aging and earlier onset of diseases of aging. In particular, heavy alcohol drinking has been associated with cancer at multiple sites," said lead researcher Andrea Baccarelli, M.D., Ph.D, in Science Daily. "All the cells in our body have a biological clock in telomeres."
Baccarelli is the head of the Center of Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology, Ca' Granda Hospital Foundation, University of Milan, Italy. Relying on real-time polymerase chain reaction, Baccarelli and his team measured serum DNA among 59 participants who abused alcohol and 197 participants with variable alcohol consumption habits.
Individuals within these groups were similar in age and other factors that can impact telomere length, including diet, physical exercise, work-related stress and environmental exposures. Telomere length was dramatically shortened in those who consumed large amounts of alcohol.