Traditionally, investigating this has been challenging due to the lack of reliable methods to measure biological aging. In addition, it was not clear from observational studies whether alcohol was the true cause of any effect, or if it was linked to other factors, such as socio-economic status.
Today, researchers from Oxford Population Health have published results from a new genetic-based analysis which suggest that alcohol directly accelerates aging by damaging DNA in telomeres. The findings are published today in Molecular Psychiatry.
Telomeres are repetitive DNA sequences that cap the end of chromosomes, protecting them from damage. Telomere length is considered an indicator of biological aging, since 50-100 DNA bases are lost each time a cell replicates. Once telomeres become too short, cells can no longer divide and may even die. Previous studies have linked shorter telomere lengths with several aging-related diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and coronary artery disease.
In this analysis, the researchers investigated the association between alcohol intake and telomere length in over 245,000 participants in the UK Biobank. They used a genetic approach called Mendelian Randomisation (MR), the first time this has been applied to investigate the effects of alcohol on aging. This method uses ‘genetic proxies’ to predict the level of exposure for each participant.