It's safe to say that people in England enjoying having a drink, with almost half (48%) having a tipple at least once a week.
But heavy boozers have more to look forward to than just a day ruined by hangxiety, carb cravings and a sore head, scientists at Oxford University have recently discovered evidence that drinking speeds up your body’s ageing process at a cellular level.
The scientists gathered genetic and health data from 245,000 Britons via the UK Biobank, splitting the participants by gender. The average age of participants was 57, with the majority being current drinkers – only 3% of them reported that they’d never consumed any alcohol.
They looked for common genetic markers in the participants that had been linked to alcohol consumption and disorders in the past and found a significant association between a high alcohol intake and a shorter telomere length.
Telomeres are small biological caps on the ends of chromosomes which have the sole purpose of protecting the DNA in our chromosomes from getting damaged. These caps will naturally change over time, becoming shorter as we age. The shortening causes our DNA to become damaged, leading to the risk of developing illnesses like Alzheimer’s and heart disease, especially in our later years.
Having longer Telomeres has also been linked to looking younger.
Participants who drank around 10 large glasses of wine per week – 29 units of alcohol – were found with telomeres that were around one or two years older (in terms of their length) than participants who drank around 2 large glasses of wine – less than 6 units of alcohol.
Scientists also found that participants diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder, more likely to be heavy drinkers in comparison, had significantly shorter telomeres as well. The shorter telomeres were equivalent to 3-6 years of biological ageing.
Though we’re unsure of how drinking alcohol shortens telomeres, researchers from the study suggest that it may be down to the increase in oxidative stress and inflammation our bodies endure when processing alcohol.
The link between shorter telomeres and alcohol intake was only associated with participants who drank more than 17 units of alcohol a week – just over 5 glasses of wine – suggesting that people who drink less than this amount aren’t at risk of telomere shortening.
The NHS recommended alcohol intake is 14 units per week, which is only slightly under the units found to have an effect in this study.
Fitness, wellness and nutrition expert Penny Weston doesn't find these results surprising. 'We’ve known for a long time about the negative impacts that alcohol has on the body and mind for so many reasons. There are many negative side-effects of alcohol. In the short-term it can cause dehydration, sickness, and impair mood and libido, as well as [affect] our looks.’
As for the long-term effects? Weston says, ‘physically it can affect mood, appetite, weight, libido, as well as cause a spike in insulin levels which are like those caused by poor diet. Most alcohol is also high in sugar and just as the food you eat can affect your mood, memory and behaviour, so can alcohol.
‘For optimum health I would recommend a diet low in alcohol and high in water and foods that support cognitive function such as blueberries, broccoli, kale, spinach and rocket, as well as fatty fish which provides omega-3 fatty acids which the brain uses to build nerve cells,’ shares Penny, ‘what we eat and drink is extremely important in maintaining good cognitive function and protecting us against conditions such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s.’
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