Saturday, April 24, 2010

Heavy alcohol consumption speeds aging

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Cancer Digest – Aglets are those plastic sheaths wrapped around the ends of your shoelaces that make it easy to thread them through the eyelets and protects them from becoming frayed.

Nature provides a similar protective tip to chromosomes, called telomeres. As we age, with each successive division of our cells the telomeres are progressively shortened, thus forming a built in biological clock. Cancer researchers have long studied telomeres because of the tendency of cells to develop cancerous mutations as the telomeres become frayed with age.

In a presentation at the American Association of Cancer Research meeting this week, Dr. Andrea Baccarelli and colleagues showed how heavy alcohol consumption speeds the shortening of telomeres.

“Heavy alcohol users tend to look haggard, and it is commonly thought heavy drinking leads to premature aging and earlier onset of diseases of aging,” Baccarelli said in a prepared statement. "In particular, heavy alcohol drinking has been associated with cancer at multiple sites."

Baccarelli, who is head of the Center of Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology, Ca’ Granada Hospital Foundation in Milan, Italy, used a DNA amplification process, called PCR (polymerase chain reaction) to compare the telomeres of 59 heavy alcohol users to the telomeres of 197 people with varying levels of alcohol consumption.

After controlling for age and other factors that might affect telomere length, such as diet, physical exercise, work-related stress and environmental exposures, they found that the telomeres in the heavy alcohol users were nearly half as long as the telomeres of light or moderate alcohol users.

“The decrease we found in telomere length is very sharp, and we were surprised to find such a strong effect at the cellular level,” Baccarelli said.

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