The researchers found acetaldehyde breaks and damage DNA within blood stem cells, permanently altering their sequences within cells.
They also help explain how the body tries to protect itself against damage caused by alcohol.
Anyone taking part in "dry January" may have an extra incentive to stay booze-free as United Kingdom scientists say they have discovered how alcohol can cause irreparable damage to DNA in stem cells, increasing the risk of cancer.
Drinking alcohol doesn't just damage the liver and kidneys - turns out it could increase cancer risks and damage DNA as well. Their findings demonstrate how drinking alcohol boosts the risk of developing 7 types of cancer, including the most common types - breast and bowel.
When alcohol is broken down in the body it forms a poisonous chemical, known as acetaldehyde. It results in DNA cells producing cancerous tissues, the study shows.
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Alcohol causes cancer by scrambling DNA in our cells, new research has found.
Although alcohol isn't thought to cause blood cancers, blood stem cells offer a valuable way for scientists to investigate what's happening to the DNA inside. To find ways of keeping cells on the straight and narrow, scientists based at MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, used mice to show how alcohol exposure leads to permanent genetic damage. But millions of people all over the world, especially in South East Asia, do not have these protective enzymes in their bodies, with the outcome that alcohol consumption hides more risks for them.
"I$3 t's important to remember that alcohol clearance and DNA fix systems are not ideal and alcohol can still cause cancer in different ways, even in people whose defence mechanisms are intact". When these are working properly, they neutralize acetaldehyde by converting it into acetate, which the body can use for energy.
"Our study highlights that not being able to process alcohol effectively can lead to an even higher risk of alcohol-related DNA damage and therefore certain cancers", Patel said. Although most of the time they reverse different types of DNA damage, some people carry mutations so their cells aren't capable of carrying out any such 'repair work'.
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The problem is, millions of people, especially those from South East Asia, either lack these enzymes or carry faulty versions of them.
'We know that alcohol contributes to over 12,000 cancer cases in the United Kingdom each year, so it's a good idea to think about cutting down on the amount you drink'.
Currently, the American Cancer Society recommends just one drink of alcohol for women and two for men, but the study proves there's no safe limit for alcohol consumption.
Scientists looked at the effect aldehyde had on mice with and without these critical ALDH enzymes and found that those who didn't have them suffered from four times as much damage to their DNA.
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