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Alcohol Leaves Its Mark on Young Adults Who Drink Regularly

Dec 30, 2013 11:52 AM EST

Alcohol consumption leaves its mark on the DNA of young adults who drink regularly on the weekends, a new study published in the journal Alcohol reports.

Researcher Adela Rendon got the idea for the study while teaching at the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico where students routinely came into class Monday morning hungover. She noted that most studies regarding the effects of alcohol abuse focus on individuals who have been regularly consuming it for years, building up an array of side effects, including liver damage, cancer, depression and nervous system disorders.

In the new study, she and her colleagues instead looked at two groups of students ranging in age from 18-23 and whose blood tests indicated they were in good health. One group consisted of non-drinkers while the other group averaged one and a half liters of beer on the weekend.

Together the researchers measured each participant's activity of the alcohol enzyme dehydrogenase, which metabolizes ethanol into the chemical compounds acetone, acetoacetate and acetaldehyde. Taking a look at the injury to participants' cell membranes due to both ethanol and acetaldehyde, the researchers were able to evaluate the students' oxidative damage. 

Even expecting there to be differences between the two study groups, the researchers were startled by what they found.

"We saw that the ones who drank sustained twice as much oxidative damage compared with the group that did not consume alcohol," Rendon said.

Taking the study one step further, they assessed whether DNA was also affected by alcohol consumption, which they did by extracting the nucleus of lymphocytic cells and subjecting them to a process known as electrophoresis. The group that drank exhibited more than five times more damaged cells than the control group, the analysis revealed. 

"When we talk about youth alcohol abuse, we are referring to youngsters who drink alcohol without having become addicted," Rendon said. "Addiction involves a more complex issue socially and psychologically speaking. This is social alcohol abuse, but which causes damage in the long term and you have to be aware of that."

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