Drinking alcohol could be ageing your body’s cells

The message we receive about alcohol can be very confusing and conflicting. From one angle we see studies and articles trumpeting the cardiovascular benefits of red wine and beer, then on the other hand we hear about the consequences of alcohol addiction, cirrhosis of the liver and “beer bellies”.

And while it’s true that moderate drinking may have beneficial effects to the risks of heart disease and strokes amongst others, drinking alcohol does undoubtedly pose some risks to our health – with increasing evidence supporting this.

A recent study from May this year, published in the British Medical Journal, has indicated that alcohol consumption, even in moderation, was associated with adverse brain outcomes including hippocampal atrophy and abnormal cognitive function.

Further research, to be presented at the 40th annual scientific meeting of the Research Society of Alcoholism (RSA) in June, has shown that the more alcohol you drink, the more your cells appear to age.

Researchers from the Kobe University Graduate School of Medicine recruited 255 participants aged between 41 and 85 years – 134 of which were alcoholics with 121 being non-alcoholic, age-matched controls.

The researchers were able to find, from examining DNA samples extracted from the patients, that the telomeres taken from the alcoholic patients were shorter than those from the controls subjects, placing them at a greater risk of age-related diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and dementia.

According to the author of the study, Dr. Naruhisa Yamaki, “telomeres, the protein caps on the ends of human chromosomes, are markers of ageing and overall health.

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

And while it’s true that this study focussed on heavy drinking, which we should all know causes significant health concerns, it’s interesting to see the exact mechanism of how alcohol can impact our health.

As with most aspects of life, moderation and control is key. While it may do no harm, or even help, to have the odd glass of wine from time to time, it’s important to remember that alcohol is about balance.

If you don’t drink but lead an otherwise healthy life, there is no need to take it up – you could receive the same cardiovascular benefits supplied by alcohol through diet and exercise. If you do drink, keep it moderate, as the benefits need to be balanced against the risks stated above.

Wishing you the best of health,

Dominic Rees
Editorial Health Researcher