A fresh study which focused on blood cells reveals more into the ways cancer and alcohol may be related in increasing the risk of developing cancer. The study focused on how alcohol affects the body, too.
Alcohol increases the risk of developing seven types of cancer, which include: Mouth, Upper Throat (phraynx), Voice Box (laryngeal), Oesophageal, Breast, Liver and Bowel Cancer. While these cancers are well known to, often, be a cause from alcohol, the path of alcohol induced malignancy is less known. Multiple variables are suspected to be involved.
Formerly, studies have only ever examined cells in a lab, then looked into the effect of alcohol on those cells. A new study with funds from Cancer Research UK has enabled researchers at MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, United Kingdom to obtain insight into the alcohol-cancer relationship.
ACETALDEHYDE AND BLOOD CELLS
Researchers fed mice with diluted ethanol, then used chromosome analysis and DNA sequencing to look for damage caused by acetaldehyde. This chemical is produced during the bodies processing of alcohol. The attention of the researchers was focussed specifically on blood cells.
These kind of blood cells are found in blood and bone marrow. These cells grow to develop into any type of cell, such as red and white blood cells. It’s crucial to understand the way in which alcohol damages these cells, as if they are faulty, then it would be known for there to be an increased risk of developing cancer.
Bacteria decays alcohol in the gut. The role of bacteria is to convert it into acetaldehyde. This chemical has been known to cause cancer in animals. After an analysis, researchers discovered that acetaldehyde damages and breaks DNA in the blood cell, rearranges the order of chromosomes and permanently alters the DNA of blood stem cells. Lead study author, Professor Ketan Patel mentions “some cancers develop from the damaged DNA of stem cells. Damage may be by chance, however, findings suggest that drinking alcohol increase the risk of this damage.” Alcohols include wine, spirits and much more. In this way, red wine and cancer may be related.
Whilst looking at the damage caused to the blood cells by alcohol, scientists also uncovered ways of protection from our bodies in response to alcohol. The study demonstrated was able to successfully answer the question: is alcohol a carcinogen? It is, indeed.
Enzymes known as Aldehyde Dehydrogenases (ALDHs) are the bodies first response to defending against alcohol. ALDHs have a process of breaking down alcohol into acetate, which cells can use as a source of energy.
A strong number of people, especially those from East Asia, are known to have faulty copies of ALDH as well as low amounts of it. Consequently, those will low levels of ALDH have toxic levels of acetaldehyde build in the body. Symptoms experienced by those with low ALDH include feelings of illness and red-flushed cheeks. During the study of mice, researchers found that mice without ALDH experienced four times the amount of damage compared to mice with ALDH.
Outside of ALDH, the body does have secondary lines of defence which can repair various types of damage to DNA. However, it’s often the case that these will not work, owing to mutations which cause them to be ineffective. Professor Ketan Patel remarks that “even with those who have intact defence mechanisms, there still remains a risk of developing cancer when consuming alcohol.”
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