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.
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.
Now a new study has found more evidence that alcohol consumption can accelerate biological aging.
To investigate any potential causation, the team used a genetic technique known as Mendelian Randomization, 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 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.
This showed similar results – people who drank more than 29 alcohol units 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 per week.
“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.”