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How alcohol can make us age faster

Friends drink alcohol and toast together

Anyone who drinks a lot of alcohol and does so regularly can pay for it in a few years.

© Charday Penn / Getty Images

No one can refuse a glass of honor – this attitude can shorten life. Those who regularly drink a lot of alcohol seem to age faster.

Enjoying a glass of wine with dinner, a beer at the sports show, an extensive breakfast with sparkling wine or a summer evening with a mojito in the beach bar – for some alcohol is just part of life. It is well known that high-proof drinks also have their drawbacks. For example, people who drink alone from a young age are more likely to become alcoholics in their thirties. And even moderate amounts of alcohol can shrink the brain, according to a study. Not only can alcohol lead to health problems or be addictive, drinking a lot of alcohol seems to speed up the aging process.

Researchers at the University of Oxford looked at DNA sequences to see if drinking alcohol could make people age faster. It was previously unclear whether alcohol alone can accelerate the aging process or whether other factors such as socioeconomic status also play a role.

Telomere length responsible for biological age

So-called telomeres are responsible for the fact that we age. They are repeated DNA sequences that cover the ends of chromosomes to protect them. The younger a person is, the longer their telomeres are. Each time a cell replicates, the telomeres decrease in length. At some point, the telomeres are so short that cells can no longer divide and die. Biological age can be determined by telomere length. In previous studies, researchers have linked telomere length to several age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and coronary artery disease.

The scientists used a genetic approach called Mendelian randomization for their analysis. For the study, the researchers used data from the British biodatabase. They also asked the 245,000 participants about their drinking habits.

Alcohol in large amounts can accelerate aging

The result: Alcohol seems to speed up the aging process: Someone who drinks about ten large glasses of wine (250 ml) a week is biologically one to two years older than someone who drinks only about two large glasses of wine a week. Alcoholics are three to six years older. However, based on their research results, the researchers assume that a minimal amount of alcohol is needed to accelerate the aging process. According to the research statement, this would require about six large glasses of wine per week.

Director of Education Dr Anya Topiwala of Oxford Population Health said: “These results support the idea that alcohol, especially in excessive amounts, directly affects telomere length. Shortened telomeres are considered a risk factor for a number of serious age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.” One of the researchers’ possible explanations for the effect of alcohol on telomere length is that alcohol increases oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. This effect also occurs when alcohol is broken down. The researchers suspect that this could damage DNA.

Dr Richard Piper, Chief Executive of Alcohol Change UK, said: “The study shows clear links between alcohol use and aging and points to a possible link between alcohol and Alzheimer’s disease. Overall, there is a growing body of scientific knowledge about the precise influence of alcohol on so many diseases and so many early deaths.”

sources: Study Oxford University, Notice of the study


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