Alcohol directly accelerates aging, an extensive genetic analysis reveals

The compound has been found to shorten telomeres.
Loukia Papadopoulos
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  • The new study found a strong link between alcohol consumption and shorter telomeres.
  • The research evaluated telomere length in over 245,000 participants from the UK Biobank.
  • Alcohol may also cause severe age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Alcohol is not good for you. Previous studies have shown that such as this work by the Global Burden of Diseases study that showed that alcohol was particularly damaging to those under 40 and this research that found that alcohol consumption can slow the rate of growth in developing brains for adolescents and young adults.

However, all these studies did not indicate whether alcohol was really responsible for these nefarious consequences or whether corresponding factors such as socioeconomic status were the culprits.

A new genetic-based analysis

Now, researchers from Oxford Population Health have submitted results from a new genetic-based analysis which suggest that alcohol directly accelerates aging by damaging DNA in telomere, according to a press release by the institution.

“These findings support the suggestion that alcohol, particularly at excessive levels, directly affects telomere length. Shortened telomeres have been proposed as risk factors which may cause a number of severe age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Our results provide another piece of information for clinicians and patients seeking to reduce the harmful effects of excess alcohol. Furthermore, the dose of alcohol is important – even reducing drinking could have benefits,” said study lead, Dr Anya Topiwala from Oxford Population Health.

For the uninitiated, telomeres are repetitive DNA sequences that cap the end of chromosomes and their length is considered an indicator of biological aging. If telomeres become too short, cells can no longer divide and may even die.

Mendelian Randomisation

In this study, the researchers used a genetic approach called Mendelian Randomisation (MR) to investigate the association between alcohol intake and telomere length in over 245,000 participants in the UK Biobank.

They found a strong link between alcohol consumption and shorter telomeres. “Compared with drinking less than 6 units of alcohol a week (about two large 250ml glasses of wine), drinking more than 29 units weekly (about ten 250ml glasses of 14% alcohol by volume wine) was associated with between one and two years of age-related change on telomere length,” the researchers wrote in their statement.

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They further reported that effects were only found in current drinkers, and not previous or never-drinkers and that the most influential genetic variant in the MR analysis was AD1HB, an alcohol metabolism gene. They stated that alcohol’s influence on telomere length was influenced by the increased oxidative stress and inflammation that alcohol consumption caused.

“We welcome all research into the effects of alcohol on the human body. This particular study shows clear links between consuming alcohol and ageing, and points towards a possible link between alcohol and Alzheimer’s. The researchers are transparent that this study does not prove a causal link, but they also make a well-argued case about the likely biological mechanism. In general, there is an ever-larger body of science showing how, exactly, alcohol causes so much ill-health and so many early deaths,” concluded Dr Richard Piper, Chief Executive of Alcohol Change UK.

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