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alcohol intake may increase the risk of cancer and even lead to premature aging,
This is due to shortening of telomeres, a region of DNA sequences at the end of
a chromosome which is important for the genetic stability of cells. As people
age, telomere length shortens progressively.
Excessive use of alcohol has been linked to oxidative stress and inflammation,
two mechanisms that accelerate telomere shortening.
Since telomere shortening is thought to increase cancer risk, the researchers
speculated that those with shorter telomeres due to heavy alcohol consumption
would have an increased risk of cancer.
"Heavy alcohol users tend to look haggard, and it is commonly thought that heavy
drinking leads to premature aging and earlier onset of diseases of aging. In
particular, heavy alcohol drinking has been associated with cancer at multiple
sites," said Andrea Baccarelli, who led the research.
"All the cells in our body have a biological clock in telomeres," noted
Baccarelli, who heads the Centre of Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology, Ca'
Granda Hospital Foundation, University of Milan, Italy.
The researchers measured serum DNA among 59 participants who abused alcohol (22
per cent consumed four or more alcoholic drinks per day) and 197 participants
with variable alcohol consumption habits (4 per cent consumed four or more
alcoholic drinks per day).