Alcohol Causes Cancer By Permanently Damaging DNA, Says New Scientific Study

Booze causes the buildup of acetaldehyde in the body, which is toxic.

A woman passed out in front of a glass of alcohol
Nixki / Thinkstock

Booze causes the buildup of acetaldehyde in the body, which is toxic.

A new study linking alcohol to cancer may make you regret the cocktails you consumed to ring in the new year. Researchers from London’s Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology have found that drinking booze leads to the buildup of acetaldehyde in the body, Reuters reports. Acetaldehyde is a toxic chemical that can wreak havoc on your DNA and lead to the development of cancerous tumors.

The study offered a deeper insight into why alcohol has been linked to cancers in the breast, colon, mouth, throat, and liver, the Daily Mail reports.

Scientists fed diluted alcohol to mice and then examined the impact on the animals’ DNA. During their study, they discovered that acetaldehyde causes the breakdown of DNA in blood stem cells which modifies DNA sequences in these cells. This is a very important discovery since any alterations to DNA sequences in stem cells can lead to the formation of cancerous cells in the body.

The researchers behind the study also looked into how the body tries to defend itself against acetaldehyde damage. They found that there are enzymes in the body called aldehyde dehydrogenases, or ALDHs. These turn the acetaldehyde into acetate, which the body can then convert into energy.

Mice who lacked the ADLH enzyme suffered four times more genetic damage after consuming alcohol, Reuters reports. The study also notes that there are DNA repair systems that can reverse the damage. But humans from certain regions don’t have this line of defense. According to Ketan Patel, professor, and co-author of the study, Southeast Asians tend to lack these genetic repair systems.

“It’s important to remember that alcohol clearance and DNA repair systems are not perfect, and alcohol can still cause cancer in different ways — even in people whose defense mechanisms are intact,” Patel said.

As Reuters notes, The World Health Organization’s International Agency For Research on Cancer has named alcohol as a Grade 1 carcinogen, which means that it’s in the same group as arsenic, benzene, and asbestos.

One cancer prevention expert told the Daily Mail that, given the results of the study, it’s important that people know that they should reduce the amount of alcohol they consume. But the Daily Mail also cites a study which shows that this is easier said than done. Research published in August showed that telling students not to “down” alcohol, or drink it all in one gulp, caused them to drink even more.