The preliminary study in question is led by UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country researcher Adela Rendon in tandem with the University of Nayarit in Mexico, and is reported by Elhuyar Fundazioa, a Basque Country science and technology foundation.
World Health Organization (WHO) data concludes that alcohol is responsible for 2.5m deaths a year globally and 19-25s account for 320,000 of there, the foundation said, explaining the study’s basis.
“The effects of alcohol abuse have mostly been studied in people who have been consuming alcohol for a long time and who therefore display symptoms ranging from liver damage to various types of cancer, depression and disorders of the nervous system,” Elhuyar Fundazioa explained.
“This is why this study is pioneering because it deals with the effect of alcohol on young, healthy people.”
Students show general alcohol ‘malaise’
While lecturing in clinical biochemistry in Mexico, Rendon noticed that many students appeared on Monday displaying a lack of attention and general malaise having drunk alcohol over the weekend.
She suggested that they study the effects on their bodies of ‘harmless’ weekend alcohol consumption, to investigate oxidative damage caused by drinking.
Students formed control and study groups comprising healthy individuals aged 18-23, without any other diseases or addictions, who took blood tests to check their health.
Their average weekly alcohol consumption was 118g of ethanol per week, where a standard drink (say a half pint or 236ml of beer) contains 10g of liquid alcohol as per Irish standards, for example, and 8g in the UK where it is referred to as a unit of alcohol.
The scientists analysed the activity of alcohol enzyme dehydrogenase (which metabolises ethanol into acetaldehyde, acetoacetate and acetone).
‘Comet test’ measures DNA damage
Oxidative damage was assessed using a TBARS biochemical test, and although the researchers expected to find it, they were surprised by the results.
“Those who drank sustained twice as much oxidative damage compared with the group that did not consume alcohol,” Rendon said.
Using a ‘comet test’ to measure damage to DNA, whereby it leaves a halo after electrophoresis if it has been damaged.
The alcohol group left a small halo, greater than the control group, with 44% of cells damaged versus 8% respectively – x5.3 more damaged cells – although the damage was non-chronic since comet tails did not exceed 20nm.
“But the fact is that there should not have been any damage at all because they had not been consuming alcohol for very long, they had not been exposed in a chronic way,” Rendon said, noting that the means by which alcohol affected DNA was unknown.