Alcohol Damages Stem Cells Causing Cancer

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Alcohol has been known to cause many health and society problems, but you seldom hear that alcohol damages stem cells causing cancer.

Ever since men started keeping records our ancestors have been known to have used alcohol. Researchers says that our human ancestors discovered it by ingesting rotting and fermented fruits that fell of the forest floor gave them  buzz effect of alcohol. As time went on they learned to ferment and refined alcohol as a beverage.

Everyone is aware of the addicting effects of alcohol and devastating effects of alcoholism. What is often overlooked is that alcohol is known to raise the risk of no fewer than seven types of cancer. These are mouth, upper throat (pharynx), voice box (laryngeal), esophageal, breast, liver, and bowel cancer.

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How alcohol causes cancers

How alcohol induces these cancers is not well understood. A new study looking at blood stem cells uncovered fresh details surrounding the mechanisms by which alcohol raises the risk of developing cancer. Animal studies done at MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, United Kingdom gave a clearer picture of the alcohol-cancer relationship.

Alcohol when ingested is converted into the chemical acetaldehyde by bacteria when it gets to the gut. Acetaldehyde is know in previous studies to cause cancer in animals. Following the analysis researchers found that acetaldehyde could, in fact, damage and break DNA within blood stem cells. Chromosomes became rearranged, and the DNA sequence is permanently changed in stem cells. As result of damage of these stem cell some of them develop into cancers cells.

Our bodies have a protective mechanism in the form of an enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenases (ALDHs) which breaks down some of the acetaldehyde to down to acetate which the body uses to produce energy and store as fat. Acetate is the same chemical found in vinegar. Alcoholics have been found to be more efficient in converting acetate to energy that makes them feel better after drinking alcohol.

Millions of people however have low levels ALDHs or have defective ALDHs so they are not able to breakdown acetaldehyde to the non-harmful form acetate. Many East Asians fall into this group. They usually get flushed cheeks and feel ill after ingesting alcohol. These group of people have even greater risk to develop cancer from alcohol ingestion.

No type of alcohol is better or worse than another, because it is the alcohol itself that leads to the damage, regardless of whether it is from wine, beer or spirits. The lesser you use alcohol the lesser you risk of developing cancer. Whether you are binge drinker or a regular drinker the risk is the same. If one smokes and drinks, there is a greater risk of mouth and throat cancers be cause alcohol as a solvent cause more to the carcinogens from tobacco to be absorbed.

Other than alcohol causing several types of cancers all of us are aware that chronic abuse results in many health issues, cost of missed work, cost of care from disability from accidents and premature death.

Laurence T. Gayao, MD, Total Fitness Medicine








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