While experts generally agree that drinking alcohol in moderation is OK, having too much alcohol has been linked to a slew of serious health problems like liver disease, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and certain cancers. Now, thereâ€™s a new concernÂ to add to the list: Drinking can age you on a cellular level.
Thatâ€™s the takeaway from a new study from Kobe University that was presented at the 40thÂ annual scientific meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism. For the study, researchers analyzed the drinking history, alcohol habits, and DNA of 255 people, about half of whomÂ sought alcoholism treatment services at a hospital in Japan.
After analyzing each personâ€™s data, the researchers determined that the more alcohol people drank, the more their cells appeared to age. Alcoholic patients specifically had shortened telomeres, the protein caps on the ends of human chromosomes that are markers of aging and overall health. Every time a cell replicates, a little amount of telomere is lost. As a result, they get shorter over time, but certain things like alcohol abuse can also speed up this aging process.Â And, by having shortened telomere lengths, alcoholic participants were at a greater risk of developing age-related diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia.
â€œTelomere shortening has been well described as a manifestation ofÂ the aging process,â€ Jack Jacoub, MD, an internist, medical oncologist, and director of thoracic oncology at MemorialCare Cancer Institute at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., tells Yahoo Beauty. â€œThereâ€™s no dispute about that.â€ However, he says, the alcohol link is new.
Health expert Jennifer Wider, MD, tells Yahoo Beauty that the news is concerning given that it places people who drink heavily at risk for age-related diseases. InÂ those individuals whoÂ are already at a higher risk for diseases like cancer and stroke â€œthis could have dire consequences,â€ she says.
Naturally, youâ€™re probably wondering what this means if youâ€™re not an alcoholic but still drink on occasion. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that, if you drink, you drink in moderation, which is defined by having up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. (For the record, a â€œdrinkâ€ is a 12-ounce beer, 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard alcohol.) Anything above that is generally considered heavy drinking.
Jacoub says itâ€™s possible that any amount of alcohol canÂ speed up cell aging, but the quantity you drink and how long you drink matters. Meaning, if youâ€™ve been a heavy drinker for years, youâ€™re probably putting yourself at a higher risk of age-related diseases than someone who only drinks occasionally and has maintained that habit for a long time.Â â€œModeration is definitely key,â€ JacoubÂ says.
Wider points out that the study was small and focused on alcoholics, and thatÂ more studies are needed before any definitive conclusions can be drawn. â€œThe effects for moderate drinkers are likely less significant,â€ she says.