A new study published in Naturebrings sorrow to all alcohol consumers, be they light or heavy users. An older study showed a significant link between cancer and light drinking, but researchers haven’t quite established a causation between the two. Now, Ketan J. Patel, a Cambridge geneticist, and his team discovered that an alcohol metabolite — acetaldehyde — causes significant DNA damage in the blood stem cells of mice.
After drinking alcohol, the body converts it into smaller parts, one of them being acetaldehyde, a toxic compound. When the body is over-flushed with acetaldehyde, the molecule accumulates within the cells and starts to cause DNA and chromosomal damage.
Next, they gave the mice diluted ethanol and then analyzed their genome to see what had happened. They discovered that acetaldehyde had altered their DNA by causing double-stranded breaks, which can lead to cancer.
Scientists were amazed when they saw that mice lacking the ALDH2 enzyme had four times the DNA damage in their blood stem cells when compared with mice that possessed the enzyme.
“We saw huge amounts of DNA damage in these cells. Bits of DNA were deleted, bits were broken and we even saw parts of chromosomes being moved about and rearranged,” Patel, the lead author said.
Another part of the experiment was to establish the methods through which the body repairs the damage done by acetaldehyde. Patel’s team learned that cells have a coordinated way of dealing with acetaldehyde poisoning.
“There are lots of ways cells can fix DNA damage,” says Patel in a press release. “What we’ve shown is that when damage happens as a result of breaking down alcohol, there’s a hierarchy when selecting the best way to carry out repairs.”