WASHINGTON, April 22 (UPI) — Researchers in Italy say alcohol may be linked at the cellular level to aging and cancer.
Lead author Dr. Andrea Baccarelli of the University of Milan in Italy and colleagues suggest alcohol may accelerate the shortening of regions of DNA found at the end of chromosomes — known as telomeres.
“All the cells in our body have a biological clock in telomeres,” Baccarelli said in a statement.
Baccarelli and colleagues measured serum DNA among 59 participants who abused alcohol — 22 percent consumed four or more alcoholic drinks per day — as well as 197 participants with varying alcohol consumption habits.
The two groups were similar in age, diet, exercise, stress and other factors affecting telomere length, but the heavy drinkers had telomere lengths nearly half as long as those who did not abuse alcohol.
“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.
Telomere shortening is thought to increase cancer risk and the researchers speculated those with shorter telomeres due to alcohol would have an increased risk of cancer, the study said.
The findings were presented at the American Association for Cancer Research 101st annual meeting Washington.
Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.