Weekend Drinking Damages DNA Of Young Adults
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redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Weekend alcohol consumption can negatively affect the DNA of young, healthy adults, according to new research published in the journal Alcohol.
Study author Adela Rendón said these damaging effects have never before been documented among young, healthy individuals because previous research has mainly focused on people who had consumed alcohol in an addictive way for many years. These long-time drinkers had typically acquired a range of side effects such as liver damage, depression, cancer and nervous system disorders.
Rendón got the idea for the current study while teaching at the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico, where students routinely came to Monday morning class hungover, displaying a lack of attention and general malaise due to drinking alcohol over the weekend.
The researcher suggested to the students that they study the effects their weekend consumption was having on their bodies, which the students believed was harmless.
The students were divided into two groups – a control group made up of those who did not drink alcohol, and a study group of those who drank during weekends. The participants, ranging in age from 18 to 23, underwent blood tests at the beginning of the study to ensure all were healthy individuals without any diseases or addictions that might alter the study results.
The average consumption of alcohol during the study was 118 g, or about a liter and a half of beer. The activity of the alcohol enzyme dehydrogenase, responsible for metabolizing ethanol into acetaldehyde, acetoacetate and acetone was then measured.
Oxidative damage was evaluated using a TBARS biochemical test, which reflects the lipid peroxidation that affects cell membranes due to the impact of the ethanol in the blood and the acetaldehyde produced by the action of the enzyme on the ethanol. In other words, there are at least two means by which free radicals are formed that can damage cell membrane integrity.
Although the researchers certainly expected to find oxidative damage, they were surprised by the results.
“We saw that the ones who drank sustained twice as much oxidative damage compared with the group that did not consume alcohol,” Rendón said.
She decided to continue testing to assess whether the students’ DNA was also affected. A so-called comet test was performed, in which the nucleus of lymphocytic cells in the blood were extracted and subjected to a process known as electrophoresis.
“The interesting thing is that if the chromatin is not properly compacted, if the DNA has been damaged, it leaves a halo in the electrophoresis,” which is called “the comet tail,” Rendón said.
The results showed that the chromatin of the exposed group left a small halo, greater than that of the control group, revealing damage in eight percent of the cells in the control group and 44 percent in the exposed group, meaning the exposed group had 5.3 times as many damaged cells.
However, in order to confirm the existence of considerable damage to the DNA, the comet tail must exceed 20 nm, and that was not the case, Rendón noted.
“But the fact is, there should not have been any damage at all because they had not been consuming alcohol for very long, they had not been exposed in a chronic way.”
The precise way in which alcohol changes DNA is not yet known. Rendón said the next step is to study the re-packaging of the chromatin and the behavior of complex mechanisms such as the histones in these individuals.
“When we talk about youth alcohol abuse, we are referring to youngsters who drink alcohol without having become addicted,” Rendón said.
“Addiction involves a more complex issue socially and psychologically speaking. This is social alcohol abuse.”
However, the study shows that even at early stages of alcohol abuse, long term damage can be still be caused, she concluded.
“You have to be aware of that.”
According to figures from the World Health Organization, alcohol is responsible for 2.5 million deaths each year worldwide, 320,000 of which are young adults between the ages of 19 and 25.