Alcohol boosts your risk of cancer through acetaldehyde

Alcohol boosts your risk of cancer through acetaldehyde

Silvia Balbo, Ph.D., a noted authority on cancer prevention from the University of Minnesota, confirmed that the human body breaks down the substances in alcohol to form acetaldehyde (a cancer-causing substance with a chemical backbone that resembles formaldehyde).  

Scientists have known for many years that acetaldehyde can cause DNA damage, trigger chromosomal abnormalities in cell cultures and act as a very potent carcinogen.  The study that Balbo and colleagues did had 10 volunteers increasing doses of alcohol, once a week for three weeks.  They found levels of a key DNA adduct increased up to 100-fold in oral cells and blood cells within hours after each drinking session.

Humans have a natural repair mechanism for correcting the damage from DNA adducts and some people have an enzyme called ‘alcohol dehydrogenase’, which can convert acetaldehyde to acetate, which makes it relatively harmless.  Unfortunately for the booze lovers, many races have large amounts of their populations with a negative variant of the alcohol dehydrogenase gene – meaning they are unable to metabolize alcohol to acetate.  Native Americans, Alaskans, Maori, Pacific Islanders, Aborigines and Asians have a deficiency in the production of that enzyme.  Therefore they risk far more damage when drinking any alcohol.

Also, even in people who can convert the acetaldehyde to acetate, when the carcinogen is ingested for too long then this protection mechanism is overloaded and worn out.  This leads to the cancers linked to alcohol such as liver cancer, bowel cancer, throat cancer, esophageal cancer, oral cancer and so on. 

Dr Balbo commented to Science Codex “We now have the first evidence from living human volunteers that acetaldehyde formed after alcohol consumption damages DNA dramatically.  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.  These findings tell us that alcohol, a lifestyle carcinogen, is metabolized into acetaldehyde in the mouth, and acetaldehyde is forming DNA adducts, which are known major players in carcinogenesis”.

Research presented on August 22, 2012 at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.  As reported by on August 22, 2012.

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Posted: Thursday 23 August 2012