You may want to rethink your nightcap habit.
People who consume more than 17 units of alcohol in a week – equal to about five large glasses of wine or eight pints of beer – were found to have “older” DNA, scientists at the University of Oxford have found.
The study, published Tuesday in Molecular Psychiatry, revealed that consuming alcohol in excess can wreak havoc on DNA by causing damage to telomeres — like protective caps at the ends of a chromosome — which could eventually lead to age-related diseases and the formation of cancer .
Swab tests found the top 40% of drinkers in the study — who had more than 17 units a week — had shorter telomere length caused by alcohol consumption.
The other 60% — who drank less than 17 units — were genetically undamaged.
Telomere length is considered an indicator of biological aging. When telomeres become too short, cells can’t divide and may even die — with studies linking shorter telomere length with aging-related diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and coronary artery disease.
Researchers investigated the association between alcohol intake and telomere length in over 245,000 participants who took part in the UK Biobank survey between 2006 and 2010. Most of the participants were current drinkers, with only 3% never drinking and 4% previously drinking. 51% were men, 49% were women, and the average age of the participants was 57.
Scientists looked for genetic markers in the participants that had previously been associated with alcohol consumption and related disorders, and compared them to those who drank excessively or less than recommended amounts.
They found increasing drinks from 10 units to 32 units per week was associated with the equivalent of three years of aging.
Dr. Anya Topiwala, from Oxford Population Health, said the study’s findings support the theory that alcohol directly affects telomere length.
“Our results provide another piece of information for clinicians and patients seeking to reduce the harmful effects of excess alcohol,” Topiwala said in a statement. “Furthermore, the dose of alcohol is important — even reducing drinking could have benefits.”
The CDC recommends no more than two drinks for adult men or one drink or less in a day for women, on days when alcohol is consumed.
A standard alcoholic drink includes 12 ounces of 5% malt liquor, 8 ounces of 7% malt liquor or 5 ounces of 12% malt liquor, or 1.5 ounces of spirits including rum, gin, vodka or whiskey.