Does Alcohol Damage Your DNA?

We all learn that alcohol is considered a drug and that it has bad health consequences when consumed in the extreme, but it is widely available and considered to be safe enough to drink in public. However, even with moderate consumption, alcohol can have a pronounced effect on our bodies; hangovers are one small example of this.

Alcohol’s Effects on DNA

Alcohol is Dangerous Fuel

Alcohol isn’t digested like other foods; it metabolizes in several ways that depend upon how much alcohol is consumed. Basically, alcohol is broken down by two enzymes, alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). It is a simple carbohydrate molecule that these enzymes break down into a sugar that the body can use as fuel. Unfortunately, the process of breaking apart the alcohol molecule creates intermediate chemicals called metabolites that can be harmful to our bodies.

Toxic Breakdown

As alcohol begins to break down it first turns into a chemical called acetaldehyde, a highly toxic chemical and a known carcinogen (causes cancer.) Acetaldehyde interferes with the body’s ability to repair damage to DNA as well as interfering with the process of copying DNA.

Cancerous Developments

The chemical is then further broken down into a less toxic substance called acetate, which is then broken down into sugar and carbon dioxide. However, the real problem is that acetaldehyde floats around in the bloodstream and can change the structure of DNA in stem cells which are used to repair the body. When the body can’t repair its DNA or recreate pieces of it they can become cancer cells which grow uncontrollably in the body. The liver can only process the alcohol so much and so fast, allowing for the acetaldehyde to accumulate in the blood which causes the damage. The greater the amount of alcohol consumed, the greater the accumulation of acetaldehyde in the body and the more damage is caused.

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