How alcohol damages stem cell DNA and increases cancer risk

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The study, which was published in the journal Nature, also kept an eye on the mechanism at how the body safeguards itself, resistant to alcohol.

Researchers from the Medical Research Council's lab of molecular biology at Cambridge University found that alcohol severely damages the DNA of stem cells in the blood and can subsequently lead to the formation of tumours.

But in this study, researchers gave diluted alcohol to mice.

Alcohol causes an increased risk of getting mouth, throat, oesophageal, larynx, breast, liver and bowel cancer, even in light drinkers.

When alcohol is broken down in the body it forms a poisonous chemical, known as acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde could fabricate a long lasting change and is thought to efficiently cause mutations at the helm for cancer. "This paper provides very strong evidence that an alcohol metabolite causes DNA damage [including] to the all-important stem cells that go on to make tissues". Even minimal drinking might cause some level of DNA damage.

The results showed that mice lacking the critical ALDH enzyme - ALDH2 - sustained 4-times as much DNA damage in their cells after being given alcohol compared to those with the fully functioning ALDH2 enzyme.

This substance was found to be able to break down and distort DNA molecules within the blood stem cells.

The second line of defence involves a variety of DNA repair systems that allows cells to fix numerous different types of damage. "While some damage occurs by chance, our findings suggest that drinking alcohol can increase the risk of this damage", Professor Ketan Patel, the lead author of the study and scientist at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, said in a press-release.

Working with mice in a laboratory, British scientists used chromosome analysis and DNA sequencing to examine the genetic damage caused by acetaldehyde, a harmful chemical produced when the body processes alcohol.

Alcohol contains a toxin called acetaldehyde which, previous studies show, harms the DNA within cells. These enzymes break down harmful acetaldehyde into acetate, which our cells can use as a source of energy.

'But it's important to remember alcohol clearance and DNA fix systems are not flawless and alcohol can still cause cancer in different ways - even in people whose defence mechanisms are intact'.

"24,000 cases of cancer a year could be prevented in the United Kingdom if nobody drank alcohol".

Millions of people - particularly from Southeast Asia - either lack these enzymes or carry faulty versions, said the team.

Scientists scrutinized at the influence aldehyde had on mice with and without these complicated ALDH enzymes and discovered that those who didn't have them agonized from four times as much damage to their DNA.

Scientists from Cancer Research UK warned in 2016 that alcohol would cause around 135,000 cancer deaths over the next two decades, and that by 2035, the UK could see 7,097 cancer deaths linked to drinking every year.

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