Health & Wellbeing

Huge genetic study suggests alcohol accelerates biological aging

Huge genetic study suggests alcohol accelerates biological aging
A new study has found evidence that alcohol may accelerate biological aging
A new study has found evidence that alcohol may accelerate biological aging
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A new study has found evidence that alcohol may accelerate biological aging
A new study has found evidence that alcohol may accelerate biological aging

A comprehensive new Oxford study has added to the growing body of research highlighting the health effects of alcohol. The large-scale genetic analysis suggests that alcohol consumption directly accelerates aging, by shortening telomeres.

Alcohol is among the most widely used recreational drugs, so it’s extremely important to examine its health impacts. Unfortunately, various studies have revealed that alcohol permanently damages DNA, directly causes cancer, contributes to cognitive decline and early-onset dementia, and can shrink the brain to the equivalent of 10 years of aging. And now a new study has found more evidence that alcohol consumption can accelerate biological aging.

Telomeres are repetitive sequences of DNA that form protective caps on the tips of chromosomes. Every time a cell divides, a section of these “junk” sequences is lost, and eventually telomeres wear away enough that useful DNA starts to be affected. This causes the cell to stop dividing, and contributes to many of the biological signs of aging. As such, telomere length is often used as a biomarker for aging.

In the new study, researchers from Oxford Population Health examined the association between alcohol intake and telomere length, using data from over 245,000 people taking part in the UK Biobank project. To investigate any potential causation, the team used a genetic technique known as Mendelian Randomization (MR), which looks at variations in certain genes – in this case, some that had previously been linked to alcohol consumption and alcohol use disorders.

In the MR analysis, the team found a clear link between high alcohol intake and shorter telomeres – drinking 32 units of alcohol (about 11 glasses of wine) per week showed telomere shortening equivalent to around three years of aging, compared to those who drank 10 units. People genetically predicted to have alcohol use disorder were also found to have about three years’ worth of aging damage to their telomeres.

The team backed up this MR analysis with observational studies of participants’ reported weekly drinking habits. This showed similar results – people who drank more than 29 alcohol units (roughly 10 large glasses of wine) per week showed telomere shortening equivalent to between one and two years of aging, compared to people who drank less than six units of alcohol (about two glasses of wine) per week.

The association seemed to only be significant for people drinking more than 17 units per week, suggesting that it takes at least a moderate level of alcohol consumption before the telomere damage kicks in.

Although the results aren’t conclusive, the team says that the evidence is strong. For one thing, the effects were only found in current drinkers, but not in participants who had never drank or had stopped drinking. The MR analysis also highlighted one particular gene as the most influential – AD1HB, which plays a role in metabolizing alcohol.

“These findings support the suggestion that alcohol, particularly at excessive levels, directly affects telomere length,” said Dr. Anya Topiwala, lead author of the study. “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.”

The research was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Source: Oxford University

Brian M
Who would have guessed! Its not surprising just by everyday observation of those suffering alcohol abuse that there is premature ageing going on, but nice to see there there now looks as though there is a correlation with more rapid loss of telomeres, a possible physical mechanism to backup statistical data is always good.

It will be a hard task to try and reverse the attitude towards excessive alcohol consumption, its so deeply buried in so many cultures. Clearly banning doesn't work well, think prohibition, the health authorities will somehow have to change the narrative of excessive drinking as a 'fun' and a socially acceptable thing to do.
What's sad about this is that the number also say that the majority of alcohol consumption is by people who drink to excess.
But if you think about it, those last three years are probably the worst years of your life so I say, lift a glass and enjoy life while you can! moderation, of course.
Gee thanks Captain Obvious.
As someone who spent a lot of years around drunks (sheriff dispatcher), some of the mugshots look like a "the faces of meth" between their teenage
years, and their 50's.
I'm guessing that "units" are the standard 10 grams of alcohol so that's about four bottles of red wine per week for the high alcohol example.
I joined AAA a long time ago... but they drove me to drinking. I'm doomed.
Ok, we’ll and good. Have they also analyzed over use of other non- alcoholic beverages? Coke, gator aid, water, tea, coffee? I’m willing to bet they’ll also find negative impact on life as well.
Shortening telomeres are something that happens as we get older. Attempts to lengthen telomeres have been successful, but a surprising undesirable effect is cancer.
It seems the shortening telomeres reduce the chance of cancer related death. Everyone who is born will die, of something, eventually. A long bout with cancer (ten years for instance) is not something most would voluntarily choose.