Alcohol ‘strongly linked to cancer’, study finds
Alcohol causes cancer by scrambling DNA in our cells, new research has found.
Beer, wine and spirits can irreversibly damage the body’s reserve of stem cells, and eventually lead to deadly mutations of their DNA. It results in DNA cells producing cancerous tissues, the study shows.
It is said to be the strongest evidence yet that alcohol causes certain diseases, including mouth and throat cancers.
‘How exactly alcohol causes damage to us is controversial.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,’ said Professor Ketan Patel, who led the work at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge.
Alcohol contains a toxin called acetaldehyde which, previous studies show, harms the DNA within cells.
But the new research highlights how acetaldehyde slices through DNA and causes permanent damage, if the effects of the toxin are not neutralised by two natural defence mechanisms. The first tier of defence clears away the acetaldehyde and the second repairs the DNA damage.
‘Our study highlights that not being able to process alcohol effectively can lead to an even higher risk of alcohol-related DNA damage and therefore certain cancers,’ said Professor Patel.
‘It’s important to remember that alcohol clearance and DNA repair systems are not perfect and alcohol can still cause cancer in different ways, even in people whose defence mechanisms are intact.’
Just one pint of lager or a large glass of wine a day significantly increases the risk of mouth, throat, oesophageal, breast and bowel cancers.
Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, a stem cell biologist at the University of Cambridge, praised the study.
She said:‘This is beautiful work which puts our finger on the molecular basis for the link between alcohol and increased cancer risk and stem cells.’
Professor Linda Bauld, an expert on cancer prevention at Cancer Research UK, which partly funded the research, said: ‘This thought-provoking research highlights the damage alcohol can do to our cells, costing some people more than just a hangover.
‘We know that alcohol contributes to over 12,000 cancer cases in the UK each year, so it’s a good idea to think about cutting down on the amount you drink.’