Excessive Alcohol Consumption Can Damage DNA: Study


Last Updated: January 19, 2023, 08:33 IST

WHO asserts that there is evidence available suggesting any threshold where the cancer causing effects of alcohol switch on and start harming the human system (Credits: AFP)

Early-onset drinking may physically affect a variety of genes, including those related to the brain. This could have a profound impact on how the brain develops.

It is commonly known that alcohol consumption is bad for one’s health. From damage to the liver to heart disorders, it affects our body in adverse ways. Alcohol consumption has become very common and thus we often ignore the adverse effect it might have on our bodies. But it’s high time we start taking these effects seriously as it’s no longer restricted to our heart or liver.

According to researchers from NIMHANS, excessive alcohol consumption can cause irreversible changes to the DNA. Here’s a tricky point. If you think that you will stop consuming alcohol if any changes in DNA are noticed and all will be fine, then you are wrong. One of the authors of the study suggests that the changes may persist even when alcohol is no longer consumed.

In the study, published online in the ‘American Journal of Medical Genetics’ the researchers explained that the body quickly breaks down alcohol (ethanol), converting its two carbon atoms (CH3CH2 or ethyl) into single atoms (CH3 or methyl), which can interact with a variety of other substances, including DNA. Methylation can alter how many genes express themselves or perhaps have harmful effects. The study discovered that the DNA chemistry alterations brought on by heavy alcohol use could not be reversible.

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For the purpose of the research, scientists analysed the chemistry of the DNA of individuals who had been drinking heavily for 10 years, on an average of 10 drinks per day. One of the authors informed that they assessed their DNA when they first sought treatment and after three months when they reduced or stopped drinking. Results showed a significant reduction in methylation in heavy drinkers. This persisted even after three months of abstinence. Two genes that are directly linked to the metabolism of alcohol, however, were more methylated in those with alcohol dependence and continued to remain so even after abstinence. They also found that in heavy drinkers, even when they stopped drinking, the methylation did not come back to the levels of non-drinkers, implying that chemical changes in the DNA associated with alcohol are not temporary.

Additionally, they also found that those who had started drinking at a young age experienced the effects more strongly. This implies that early-onset drinking may physically affect a variety of genes, including those related to the brain. This could have a profound impact on how the brain develops and matures, with effects that could last into later adulthood.

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