Can drinking alcohol rot your DNA?
The study, published in the journal Alcohol, was conducted by researchers from the University of the Basque Country in Spain and the Autonomous University of Nayarit in Mexico. The findings show that in some cases casual drinking on the weekend can induce oxidative DNA damage— a tremendously complex type of cellular damage caused by reactive oxygen species (ROS), a type of free radical.
Researchers who took part in the study said they wanted to take a closer look and spotlight what’s happening with college-age drinkers. In the past, most studies of oxidative damage have focused on seasoned alcoholics, in whom ethanol has been shown to have harmful effects; while teens, healthy and young adults have received limited attention.
To collect data, researchers surveyed college students ages 18 to 23 who drank—dividing them into two groups: those who drank and those who did not. Those who drank reported an average weekend consumption equivalent to three pints of beer.
After administering the survey, researchers collected DNA samples from all participants, which revealed a glaring difference between those who drank and those who didn’t.
In an online press release, one of the lead authors of the study said, “We saw that those who drank sustained twice as much oxidative damage compared with the group that did not consume alcohol.”
Even though the damage noted in the study did not exceed 20 nanometers (or what researchers define as considerable damage), they were quick to point out that even nascent damage is bad news. “The fact is, there should not have been any damage at all because they had not been consuming alcohol for very long and they had not been exposed in a chronic way.”
Researchers hope the results will help young adults recognize that the consequences of drinking are not limited to those who are defined as “alcoholics.”
“When we talk about youth alcohol abuse, we are referring to youngsters who drink alcohol without having become addicted,” researchers said. “Addiction involves a more complex issue socially and psychologically speaking. This is social alcohol abuse, but which causes damage in the long term and you have to be aware of that.”
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