Medicine

Beware, Alcohol Consumption May Damage Stem Cells And Increase Cancer Risk

Beware, Alcohol Consumption May Damage Stem Cells And Increase Cancer Risk

Drinking alcohol doesn't just damage the liver and kidneys - turns out it could increase cancer risks and damage DNA as well.

In Wednesday's study, published in the journal Nature, Patel's team gave diluted alcohol to mice and then analyzed the effect on the animals' DNA. Our more detailed analysis of these mice shows that some of this DNA damage occurs in blood stem cells, causing most of the stem cells to die.

New research on genetically modified mice suggests how this happens - with a product of the breakdown of alcohol, acetaldehyde, causing damage to DNA in living cells.

But what they didn't understand until now, was that this is because drinking actually damages the DNA blueprint in your stem cells.

They analysed the DNA in the mice to examine the damage caused by acetaldehyde.

"Some cancers develop due to DNA damage in stem cells".

"How exactly alcohol causes damage to us is controversial", said Prof Ketan Patel, who led the work at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge.

Prof Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, a stem cell biologist at the University of Cambridge, said the findings were very important:"This is attractive work which puts our finger on the molecular basis for the link between alcohol and increased cancer risk and stem cells", she said. "Alcohol is a cause of cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colorectum, liver and female breast", they wrote. People from this region often get a flushed complexion after drinking alcohol, and they often feel unwell.

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"We saw huge amounts of DNA damage in these cells".

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.

Humans counter the ill effects of acetaldehyde by secreting an enzyme called acetaldehyde dehydrogenases (ALDH) that helps in the breakdown process. We know acetaldehyde is toxic, and in cell culture studies it has been shown to cause cancer.

But when alcohol is consumed faster than the body's ability to process it, acetaldehyde can build up in the cells.

The team now plans to investigate why drinking is linked to certain cancers, but not others. "But 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 defence mechanisms are intact".

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.

Millions of people around the world, particularly those from South East Asia, either lack these enzymes or carry faulty versions of them, scientists say.

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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