Addiction

28 June 2017

Boozing makes your cells age faster

DNA studies reveal that alcoholics have shorter telomeres, key markers of ageing and overall health.

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Worldwide, alcohol is the most popular drug, and while it is often associated with partying and having a good time, excessive use can lead to disease and even death.

Alcoholism or alcohol dependence is a disease that involves physical and psychological dependence or addiction to the drug alcohol. It is chronic, progressive and often fatal.

SA above world average

South African adult per capita alcohol consumption (ACP) in 2005 equalled 9.5 litres of pure alcohol. APC in South Africa is well above the world average of 6.13.

The more you booze it up, the more your cells age, increasing your risk for age-related health problems like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and dementia, a new study suggests

Researchers studied 134 alcoholics between the ages of 41 and 85 and a control group of people in the same age group who weren't alcoholics.

DNA samples revealed that the alcoholics had shortened telomeres.

"Telomeres, the protein caps on the ends of human chromosomes, are markers of ageing and overall health," said study leader Dr Naruhisa Yamaki, a clinical fellow at the Kobe University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan.

Faster biological ageing

Every time a cell replicates, a tiny bit of telomere is lost, so they get shorter with age. As time passes, that leaves chromosomes less protected so cells may be unable to function properly. But some people have shorter telomeres for reasons other than ageing.

"Our study showed that alcoholic patients have a shortened telomere length, which means that heavy drinking causes biological ageing at a cellular level," Yamaki said.

He added that it's important for people to understand that heavy drinking causes telomere shortening, because "awareness of this fact provides important information necessary for people to live healthier."

Read more:

Alcohol: moderation is key

WHO - anti-alcohol strategy

Alcoholism damages brain's white matter