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Alcohol Linked to Accelerated Aging – It Quickens Cellular Biological Clock

posted 12:21 AM EST, Fri April 23, 2010

Italian researchers say that chronic heavy drinking shortens telomeres, a part of our DNA that serves as a ‘biological clock’ for aging.

Telomeres are often compared to the plastic tips on the end of shoelaces. They cap the end of chromosome strands to keep them together and to keep them from fraying. Each time the cell divides and replicates itself in normal cell growth; these telomeres get a little bit shorter. Eventually, the telomeres get too short, and the cell can no longer replicate. Telomere’s are thought to play a significant role in the aging process, and researchers believe people with shortened telomere strands are at an increased risk of cancers and death – because of this, telomere’s have also been compared to burning fuses.

Researchers in Italy compared the telomere lengths of 57 people who were classified as alcohol abusers, with 197 people who did not abuse alcohol. All subjects were considered to be similar in other telomere influencing factors, such as age, diet, activity level and stress level.

The researcher found that those that abused alcohol had telomere lengths that were roughly half as long as those that did not abuse alcohol.

Lead researcher, Dr Andrea Baccarelli MD of the University of Milan commented on the study by saying that she was surprised to have found such a strong difference between the two groups at the cellular level, but that these results do explain what we can sometimes see amongst heavy drinkers, saying, "Heavy alcohol users tend to look haggard, and it is commonly thought that heavy drinking leads to premature aging and earlier onset of diseases linked to aging."

Dr. Baccarelli presented her research at the 101st annual American Association for Cancer Research in Washington.

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