Today’s post comes to confirm how truly harmful alcohol can be for our body. An article published in the journal Nature shows that a by-product of the breakdown of alcohol damages our DNA …
When we ingest any type of substance, it reaches our blood after having passed through the entire digestive tract, that is: from the mouth to the intestine. It will be here, in the intestine, where, in this case alcohol, is absorbed and passes into our blood.
The circulation will lead you, first of all, to the liver, and after having passed through it, the blood will transport it to all the organs of the body. For this reason, this organ is usually compared to a kind of “detoxifier”, which tries to eliminate or detoxify any substance that may be harmful to us.
In our case, in the liver, alcohol (which is specifically ethanol, a type of alcohol) would become another substance: Acetaldehyde, thanks to the action of an enzyme, Alcohol deihydrogenase. And in case there is someone around here who still doesn’t know what an enzyme is, I remind you: An enzyme is a protein that catalyzes a reaction, and when we talk about catalyzing we mean helping the reaction to occur, speeding up the process .
What happens then with Acetaldehyde? Well, mainly, what happens is that it is even more toxic than ethanol, and that when it is produced in the liver it will travel through the blood throughout our body. When the circulation takes the Acetaldehyde back to the liver (our circulatory system is a closed circuit) it will be when it is completely detoxified when it becomes acetic acid, thanks to the enzyme Acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. This substance is no longer toxic to us as it can be used as an energy source.
So what is the problem?
Acetaldehyde, the metabolite derived from the breakdown of alcohol, is what causes DNA damage. Although we have commented that this was broken down into another substance that was no longer toxic to us. The problem is generated when so much accumulates in the body that the body is not able to eliminate everything at once. High levels of acetaldehyde in the blood are responsible for damaging the DNA of hematopoietic stem cells.
Hematopoietic stem cells are those cells that are responsible for generating the different types of blood cells: platelets, white blood cells, red blood cells … High concentrations of acetaldehyde cause breaks in your DNA. Like any other cell type, these cells have a machinery in charge of repairing these damages, although they can make mistakes that generate mutations. The accumulation of these mutations are the cause of the appearance of cancer cells and the subsequent development of a tumor.
An added problem? More than 500 million people worldwide (mainly in Asia) suffer a mutation in the gene that produces the protein Acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2). This mutation causes the enzyme to not work properly and the levels of acetaldehyde in the blood to accumulate to a greater extent. What does it mean? That these people are more likely to develop tumors because they are not able to eliminate the toxic metabolite so easily.
The conclusion? Responsible consumption of alcoholic beverages.