New research identifies the cancer causing properties of alcohol.For decades, people have known that drinking alcohol is linked to an increased risk of certain cancers. New research has just provided the first evidence to explain why this link exists.
Scientists found that as the human body breaks down alcohol, it produces a chemical called acetaldehyde. This substance closely resembles formaldehyde, which is known to cause cancer in humans. The acetaldehyde can cause DNA damage trigger chromosome abnormalities in cell cultures and cause cancer in animals.
"We now have the first evidence from living human volunteers that acetaldehyde formed after alcohol consumption damages DNA dramatically," Silvia Balbo, the Ph.D., who led the study said. She is a research associate in the laboratory of Stephen Hecht, Ph.D., a noted authority on cancer prevention at the University of Minnesota. "Acetaldehyde attaches to DNA in humans to the genetic material that makes up genes in a way that results in the formation of a 'DNA adduct.' It's acetaldehyde that latches onto DNA and interferes with DNA activity in a way linked to an increased risk of cancer."
This discovery may be especially worrying for people of Asian descent, Native Americans and Native Alaskans. While most people have natural defences against acetaldehyde that quickly nullifies the chemical, about 30% of people of Asian descent and an unknown number of Native Alaskans and Native Americans are missing this natural capability. That means around 1.6 billion people are unable to effectively process acetaldehyde.
These people all lack something called the alcohol dehydrogenase gene. This means they cannot metabolise alcohol properly so the acetaldehyde remains in their system longer. This puts them at an increased risk for oesophageal cancer.
The good news is that people have a great natural repair system that can fix the damage done by acetaldehyde. This helps reduce the risk of cancer but it does not eliminate it entirely.
For those without the ability to properly metabolise alcohol this new research could mean a new set of guidelines for healthy drinking habits.