Heavy Drinking Can Change Your DNA
The studies showed that alcohol-fuelled changes in the genes of binge and heavy drinkers were associated with a greater desire for alcohol.
Are you a heavy drinker? Take note. Besides alcohol taking a toll on your health in many ways, it may also trigger a long-lasting genetic change resulting in an even greater craving for alcohol, researchers including one of Indian-origin have warned.
"We found that people who drink heavily may be changing their DNA in a way that makes them crave alcohol even more," said Dipak K. Sarkar, Professor at Rutgers University in the US.
"This may help explain why alcoholism is such a powerful addiction, and may one day contribute to new ways to treat alcoholism or help prevent at-risk people from becoming addicted," said Sarkar.
For the study, researchers focused on two genes implicated in the control of drinking behaviour: PER2, which influences the body's biological clock, and POMC, which regulates our stress-response system.
By comparing groups of moderate, binge and heavy drinkers, the team found that the two genes had changed in binge and heavy drinkers through an alcohol-influenced gene modification process called methylation, according to the findings, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
In addition, the binge and heavy drinkers also showed reductions in gene expression, or the rate at which these genes create proteins. These changes increased with greater alcohol intake.
Also, in another experiment, the drinkers viewed stress-related, neutral or alcohol-related images. They were also shown containers of beer and subsequently tasted beer, and their motivation to drink was evaluated.
Results showed that alcohol-fuelled changes in the genes of binge and heavy drinkers were associated with a greater desire for alcohol.
The findings may eventually help researchers identify biomarkers — measurable indicators such as proteins or modified genes — that could predict an individual's risk for binge or heavy drinking, Sarkar noted.
In 2016, more than 3 million people died from the harmful use of alcohol. More than three quarters of alcohol-caused deaths were among men. The harmful use of alcohol also caused 5.1 per cent of disease and injuries worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
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