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Alcohol's Gene Damage

Alcohol can damage hematopoietic stem cells' genes, the Guardian reports. It adds that this could possibly explain the link between alcohol and cancer.

As they report in Nature, researchers from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in the UK exposed mice to diluted levels of alcohol to find that the acetaldehyde that's produced when the body breaks ethanol causes DNA damage, including within blood stem cells.

In particular, mice lacking the Aldh2 gene, which encodes aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 and usually prevents the buildup of acetaldehyde, had even higher levels of damage. Millions of people, particularly those of Southeast Asian descent, either lack ALDH2 enzymes or have ones that don't work as they should, Cancer Research UK, which funded the work, notes in a press release.

"How exactly alcohol causes damage to us is controversial," senior author Ketan Patel from the MRC Lab tells the Guardian. "This paper provides very strong evidence that an alcohol metabolite causes DNA damage [including] to the all-important stem cells that go on to make tissues."

The Guardian adds that the researchers now plan to explore why drinking alcohol is linked to some cancers, but not to others. About 4 percent of all cancer cases in the UK have been attributed to alcohol, it says.