ALCOHOL doesn’t age you – unless you’re drinking above a critical threshold, scientists claim.
Research has long looked at whether there is ever a safe or beneficial amount of beverages per week, throwing up various conclusions.
Now a new study, led by University of Oxford, looked at the impact of booze on long-term ageing.
It found that alcohol does damage DNA, specifically telomeres, which cap the end of chromosomes.
Telomeres protect the chromosomes from fraying, like the plastic tip of a shoelace.
The length of telomeres affects how cells age, with research showing the shorter they are, the less able they are to protect the chromosomes.
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Shorter telomere lengths have been associated with several age-related diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and coronary artery disease.
Telmore length can be influenced by our daily habits, such as smoking, exercise and drinking.
Oxford Population Health scientists attempted to pinpoint exactly how much alcohol is harmful to our telomeres, and how much it accelerates ageing by.
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They used the UK Biobank – a huge database of half a million Brits – which included information on how many tipples they enjoy per week.
Most of the participants were drinkers, with just three per cent saying they never drank.
By studying their genetic DNA, researchers found a “significant association” between those who love to drink, and shorter telomeres.
Drinking more than 10 beers or wines per week aged a person’s DNA by up to two years compared to someone who had two, the findings suggest.
Those who had an alcohol use disorder saw the most damage – the equivalent of three to six years of age.
But the findings published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry said telomere damage only happens once a threshold of 17 units per week is met.
It suggests a person drinking just over five large glasses of wine, or five pints of high-strength lager, are safe to continue doing so.
However, it is worth noting that the NHS recommends sticking to 14 units (over four glasses) or less per week.
And much research has shown that there is “no safe amount of alcohol”, despite studies claiming it can be protective against some diseases.
Drinking can also contribute to ageing of the skin and brain, and drive risk of life-threatening diseases.
The findings are not conclusive, but study lead Dr Anya Topiwala said: “These findings support the suggestion that alcohol, particularly at excessive levels, directly affects telomere length.
“Shortened telomeres have been proposed as risk factors which may cause a number of severe age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
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“Our results provide another piece of information for clinicians and patients seeking to reduce the harmful effects of excess alcohol.
“Furthermore, the dose of alcohol is important – even reducing drinking could have benefits.”
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