College students are renowned for partying at the weekends, and this usually involves having a drink or two. But new research has found that this level of alcohol consumption may cause damage to DNA. This is according to a study published in the journal Alcohol.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that around four out of five college students in the US drink alcohol and 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year as a result of unintentional alcohol-related injuries.

According to the study researchers, including co-author Jesús Velázquez of the Autonomous University of Nayarit in Mexico, previous research studying the effects of alcohol consumption has mainly been carried out in individuals who have been drinking for long periods of time.

These individuals usually have illnesses as a result of their alcohol consumption, such as liver damage, cancer or depression.

But the investigators say their study is “pioneering,” as it analyzes the effects of alcohol consumption on young people who are healthy.

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A new study suggests that alcohol consumption for young adults, even if only at weekends, may be damaging to their DNA.

The researchers set out to determine the level of oxidative damage caused by alcohol consumption in two groups of people between the ages of 18 and 23. Oxidative stress can cause damage to proteins, membranes and genes.

One group drank an average of 1.5 liters of alcoholic beverages every weekend, while the other group did not consume any alcohol.

All participants underwent blood tests to ensure they were healthy and were free of any diseases or addictions.

The researchers also measured the activity of dehydrogenase – an enzyme responsible for metabolizing alcohol (ethanol) into acetaldehyde – as well as acetoacetate and acetone activity.

Using a thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS) test, the researchers were able to assess oxidative damage. The test allowed them to see how ethanol in the blood, and the acetaldehyde produced by dehydrogenase in reaction to ethanol, affects the lipid peroxidation that impacts cell membranes.

Results of the study revealed that the alcohol-consuming group demonstrated twice as much oxidative damage to their cell membranes, compared with the group that did not drink.

An additional experiment, called the comet test, was conducted to see whether the participants’ DNA was also affected by alcohol consumption. This involved taking out the nucleus of lymphocytic cells in the blood and putting it through electrophoresis.

The researchers explain that if the cells are faulty and DNA is damaged, it causes a “halo” in the electrophoresis, called “the comet tail.”

The experiment revealed that the group who consumed alcohol showed significantly bigger comet tails in the electrophoresis, compared with the group that did not drink alcohol.

In detail, 8% of cells were damaged in the control group, but 44% were damaged in the drinking group. This means the drinking group had 5.3 times more damage to their cells.

However, the investigators say that they were unable to confirm there was extensive damage to the DNA, as the comet tail was less than 20 nanometers. But the investigators say their findings still raise concern.

They explain:

The fact is, 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.”

Overall, they conclude that oxidative damage can be found in young adults with only 4-5 years’ alcohol drinking history, and that this is the first study to provide evidence of this damage in individuals at the early stages of alcohol abuse.

Other studies have detailed some positive effects of moderate alcohol consumption. Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that drinking alcohol in small doses may boost the immune system.