Alcohol abuse can alter male DNA for 3 months after weaning, says the NIMHANS research

People in front of a wine and beer shop in Daryaganj | Photo: Manisha Mondal | The pressure

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Chennai: Excessive drinking, leading to an alcohol use disorder (AUD) changes DNA in men, and these changes can last for at least three months during both total withdrawal and reduction in consumption, suggests a new study from the National Mental Health Institute and Neuroscience before (NIMHANS), Bengaluru.

The study has implications for the treatment of AUD, which is often treated by forcing the patient to abstain from alcohol and often leads to chronic relapse.

The study was carried out on 52 men between the ages of 21 and 40 who visited the outpatient department of the NIMHANS Center for Addiction Medicine from March 2015 to April 2016 for treatment for alcohol problems.

The participants were compared with a control group of 52 men of the same age.

The researchers found that after three months of treatment, both men who cut down on alcohol and men who abstained remained with AUD-induced changes in DNA.

The results were published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics last month.

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Alcohol Disorder and DNA Changes

AUD includes conditions commonly known as alcohol abuse, alcohol addiction, alcohol addiction, and alcoholism. The disorder is defined by behaviors such as excessive drinking and the inability to moderate consumption, as well as addiction.

In India, 29 percent of men ages 15 to 54 use alcohol – 12 percent daily and 41 percent weekly. According to the World Health Organization, AUD causes 3 million deaths annually, or 5.3 percent of all deaths worldwide.

AUD induces DNA methylation, or the addition of methyl groups to DNA, which causes changes in the DNA but does not change the sequence itself.

DNA methylation regulates and can suppress gene expression – the processes by which information from a gene is used to make a protein that aids other biological and metabolic processes in the body.

The researchers note that such suppressed gene expression has also been linked to cancer in the body.

The team compared participants seeking treatment – with an average age of 33 years, alcohol addiction of eight years and an average alcohol consumption of about 13 units per day – with the control group, who did not suffer from AUD.

One unit consists of 10 ml or 8 g of pure alcohol, which is roughly the amount of alcohol an average adult can handle in an hour.

The researchers found that after three months of standard treatment, DNA methylation persisted during the three-month follow-up period compared to controls who did not have AUD but whose alcohol and nicotine consumption were not accounted for.

The team also found that the amount of DNA correlated with the age of first exposure to alcohol.

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Admittedly, the study has major limitations – mainly the researchers failed to determine whether the methylation was caused by AUD or whether that was the cause of AUD itself.

They also didn’t look at methylation in the brain, only in the blood.

In addition, the researchers did not have enough data to follow up beyond three months.

Additionally, the study participants represented the “heavy end of the AUD spectrum,” and therefore the results are unlikely to apply to those without alcohol addiction, the authors say.

The results also only apply to men and to those who have been able to receive treatment in metros like Bengaluru.

Finally, the authors made it clear that 52 test takers are too few for final results, adding that more study is needed, especially among those who switch to abstinence after AUD.

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