It’s safe to say that people in the UK enjoy drinking, with nearly half (48%) drinking at least once a week.
But drinkers have more to look forward to than just a day marred by anxiety, cravings for carbohydrates, and headaches. University of Oxford scientists recently found evidence that drinking accelerates your body’s aging process at the cellular level.
The scientists collected genetic and health data from 245,000 Britons via the UK Biobank and separated participants by sex. The average age of the participants was 57 years, with the majority being current drinkers – with only 3% reporting that they had never consumed alcohol.
They looked for common genetic markers in participants associated with previous alcohol use and disorders and found a significant association between high alcohol consumption and shorter telomere length.
Telomeres are tiny biological caps at the ends of chromosomes that have the sole purpose of protecting the DNA in our chromosomes from damage. These hats naturally change over time, getting shorter with age. The shortening causes damage to our DNA, putting us at risk of developing diseases such as Alzheimer’s and heart disease, especially in later years.
Longer telomeres are also associated with a younger appearance.
Participants who drank about 10 large glasses of wine per week – 29 units of alcohol – had telomeres that were about a year or two older (in terms of length) than participants who drank about 2 large glasses of wine – by – alcohol with less than 6 units.
The researchers also found that participants diagnosed with alcohol use disorder, who were relatively heavy drinkers, also had significantly shorter telomeres. Shorter telomeres correspond to 3-6 years of biological aging.
While we’re not sure how alcohol consumption shortens telomeres, the study researchers suspect this may be due to the increased oxidative stress and inflammation our bodies experience when processing alcohol.
The association between shorter telomeres and alcohol consumption was only found in participants who drank more than 17 units of alcohol per week – more than 5 glasses of wine – suggesting that people who drank less than that amount were not at risk for telomere shortening.
The NHS recommended alcohol intake is 14 units per week, which is just below the units shown to be influential in this study.
Fitness, health and nutrition expert Penny Weston doesn’t find these results surprising. “We have known for a long time about the negative effects of alcohol on the body and mind for a variety of reasons. There are many negative side effects of alcohol. In the short term it can cause dehydration, illness and poor mood and libido and [affect] our appearance.
As for the long term effects? Weston says, “Physically, it can affect mood, appetite, weight, libido, and cause spikes in insulin levels similar to a poor diet. Most alcohol is also high in sugar, and just like the food you eat.” can affect your mood, memory, and behavior, as can alcohol.
For optimal health, I would recommend a low-alcohol, water-rich diet and foods that support cognitive function, such as blueberries, broccoli, kale, spinach, and arugula, as well as oily fish, which provide omega-3 fatty acids. that the brain uses to build nerve cells,” says Penny. “What we eat and drink is critical to maintaining good cognitive function and protecting us from diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s.”