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Alcohol 'can damage DNA and elevate risk of cancer'

09 January 2018

When stem cells are damaged, scientists said, they can give rise to cancer.

In the study, published January 3 in the Nature journal, the researchers gave mice diluted alcohol then observed how it affected their DNA.

"This is lovely work, which puts our finger on the molecular basis for the link between alcohol and increased cancer risk and stem cells".

In the study, when mice lacking the critical ALDH enzyme - ALDH2 - were given alcohol, it resulted in four times as much DNA damage in their cells compared to mice with the fully functioning ALDH2 enzyme.

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They then used chromosome and DNA analysis to examine genetic damage caused by acetaldehyde, a chemical produced when the body processes alcohol.

Scientists have found clues as to why drinking alcohol increase a person's cancer risk, according to a study published last week in the scientific journal Nature.

Their findings offered more detail about how alcohol increases the risk of developing 7 types of cancer, including common forms such as breast and bowel cancer. The body does produce certain enzymes which can help in the process of breaking down acetaldehyde, and thus mitigating the damage it causes to one's DNA.

Study leader Professor Ketan Patel, at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, said: "Some cancers develop due to DNA damage in stem cells".

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The study also looked at how the body tries to protect itself against damage caused by alcohol. Furthermore, alcohol destroys stem cell DNA, according to a study by the Cancer Research Association. However, it's important to note that the effects of acetaldehyde can be neutralized by two of the body's natural defense mechanisms: the first one fights acetaldehyde and the second one repairs DNA damage. These enzymes break down harmful acetaldehyde into acetate, which our cells can use as a source of energy.

These stem cells are crucial for replenishing cells lost throughout the life span, but once they are damaged, they can spread the damage further. But these mechanisms do not always work; some people have mutations that render them ineffective.

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

The study also found some people carry genetic mutations in two genes - aldh2 and Fancd2 - which make drinking far more unsafe. 'But it's important to remember that 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'.

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Alcohol 'can damage DNA and elevate risk of cancer'