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Youcan take comfort from the fact that once the acetaldehyde has cleared from your system you will feel a lot better. gonads. The onslaught on your body comes from within and without. Not a pretty sight. Alzh eimer's. but researchers now believe that acet aldehyde is at least part ly responsible for the risin g incidence of can cer an d liver disease as well as. The assumption was that ethanol itself was to blame. Now. liver. acetaldehyde is surprisingly toxic.tom IT'SHARD to look fetching with a hangover. uterus and digestive system. heart. It has since become clear that acetaldehyde is the real demon in the demon drink.Then its sinister edge began to emerge. skeletal muscle. And if you could witness the state of your insides you'd be even more horrified. Tobacco smoke. Youare probably blaming your haggard state on dehydration. possibly. Fortunately. pounding head and queasy stomach. the spotlight is increasingly mo ving away from ethanol and towards aceta ldehy de. "With the kind oflevels we take in. For 30 years researchers have known that excessive alcohol intake causes serious long-term damage to virtually every internal organ: brain. Measuring overall acetaldehyde exposure is tricky as the molecule is quickly broken down in the body." says Richard Deitrich. as we find out more about how drink wreaks long-term havoc. The bacteria living in your mouth and guts churn it out in bucket loads. but the mechanism was unclear. but your internal organs are n't so lucky. acetaldehyde was thought to be a harmless intermediate in the breakdown of ethanol and was pretty much ignored.Alcohol and smoke are major sources of thepotent toxin acetaldehyde www. exhaust fumes and foods all contribute to your acetaldehyde load. most of us should be dead. Curtains closed.newsucntut. For a long time. or impurities in whatever it was you drank last night. On your way to the kitchen for a glass of water you catch sight of yourself in a mirror. Another big reason for your hangover is a simple molecule called acetaldehyde. It's not just our boozing habits that are to blame. It started in the 1980s when alcohol researcher Victor Preedy of King's College London found that acetaldehyde is a powerful muscle poison. produced by your liver as it breaks down ethanol. For such an innocuous-looking molecule. kidneys. but you're only partly right. you lie in bed with a parched mouth. a pioneer in acetaldehyde research at the University of Colorado Alcohol Research Center in Aurora. 10 february 20071 NewScientist 131 . roughly 30 times more toxic than ethanol itself. the body has a battery of detoxifying enzymes that specialise in ~ breaking the stuff down . They will be feeling the effects of acetaldehyde for much longer.
In 2005. Th ese west is linked to risin g ra tes of liver. a whole range of adducts are form ed in th e liver ." says Seitz . "Muscle damage is the most common. Gene-deficient people also have high rates of head and neck cancer. Irreversible damage What is becoming in creasingly clear is t hat al m os t any ex posu re to acetaldehyde can do seriou s da m age. First.though in heavy dr inkers that figure can rise to 10 gram s . which is just as well sinc e the long-term health consequences ar c turni ng out to be serious. japan. Th e ch anges persist for mo re th an 24 hours.ro per cent of patients with alcoholic liver disease have anti-ace talde hyde an tibodies in their bloodstream . t he ir acetal de hyde leve ls shoot up to between 6 and 20 times that found in people wit h norm al ALDH2 . vol na. vol 40. Medical School in Kawas ak i.atl east in animals. in the gene for alcohol dehydrogena se . Alzhe im er 's. The re are 19 different ALDHs in humans but one in particular. Aroun d. In 2004. Dizzin ess. Acetaldehyde is then broken down by ALDH2 an d the resultin g acetic acid is burned as fuel in the muscles. the immune system see s these adducts as foreign and fires off an in flammato ry response." says Preedy. then. ALDH2. " It is likely t ha t Acetaldehyde also attacks DNA. Korean or Taiwa nese origin carry at least one fau lty co py of th e ALDH2 gene and can sca rcely break down acetaldehyde at all.mean ing that Skeletal m uscle is parti cu larly badly affected. he art. including rheu m atoid arthritis. Alcohol Abus e a n d Alcoholism in Bethesda. vol 33 p 3513). alcohol dehydrogenase. To make matters worse. Rough ly 50 per cent of people of Japanese . Th ese and a ~ host of other resu lts all add to the growi n g suspicion th at acetaldehyde is a human it can resu lt in cell in jury an d persistent car cin ogen." says alcohol rese a rche r Pete r Eri ksson fro m Finland's National Public Health Institute in Helsinki. Little wonder. Drumming up an in fla m m atory response is usually considered a bad omen as Some of the bes t evidence come s from studying people who can not process the compou nd norm ally. profess or of in flammation. As soon as you sta rt dr ink ing alcohol. Preedy has found that rats given a single dose of ethanol end up with signifi cant muscle damage as a resul t of acet ald ehyde attacking proteins. agrees. hea dach e. 321 N ewS(ientislllOF ebruary2007 The im m ediate consequences of havi ng the faulty vers ion of the ALDH2 gene are high ly visible. resea rchers at Nipp on carcinogen. yo ur liver revs into ac tio n. The live r does a fantastic job: normally it elim ina tes over 99 per cent of the acetaldehyde. muscle s.especially in t he liver .newsrientist. does most of th e work . colon an d ad duc ts have shown up in th e organs of rectal cancer. Th at's 12 hou rs of con t inu ous ex posu re to acetaldehyde.rom . There's more. that between ace ta ldehyde and Alzheim er's although ethanol itsel f is no t considered a disease. On ly minute amounts escape into the bloodstream.are at greater risk of developing can cers o f the upper gastrointestinal tract and liver (Interna tional Ioutnal a/Cancer. 22 May 2004. p 485). But that 's where the p ro ble m s sta rt. rodents fed alcohol and also in the white blood There arc eve n sugges tions of a link cells of alcoh oli cs. the incidence of upper ga strointestinal tract cancer is about 50 times the normal rat e. It has been linked with a ho st alcoh ol research at the Univ ersity of of diseases. muscle da m age is five times more common than cirrh osis of th e liver. Aceta ldehyde att ac he s itself to am ino groups in protei n s to for m stable compounds called adducts. Among the m inority of flushers who are also heavy drinkers. The resulting ad duc ts dis rupt DNA's "Th e cells don 't forget. who is m u tation s and chromosomal problems co nvi nced that esca lating alcoh ol in take in th e (Nucle ic Acids Research. lo ng after the che mical itself h as disappeared from th e system (Alcohol and Alcoholism." Eriksson says. In the wake ofa dr inki ng bout. Not surpri singly. Acetaldehyde also se em s to play a role in Maryland . reported that acetaldehyde can breast cancer. This acetaldehyde " ru sh " trig gers faci al t1ush ing." Among alco holics. it converts the ethanol into aceta ldehyde u sing anot her enzyme. F lushed faces it takes abou t 12 hours to eliminate all th e et ha n ol ina bottle of win e. According to Onni Niemela of th e University of'Tarnpere in Finl and. Chinese. pro tei n s. elevated he art rate and dilated blo od vess els. Heidelberg in Germany. acetaldehyde is ." he says. nausea an d vo mi ting soon follow. thes e cause irr ever sible damage by messing u p protein structure an clfu n ctio n. "You can se e it in any restaurant in Japan or China. reported The re is growing eviclence that that among a group o f peo ple with aceta ldehyde is a hu m an carcinogen too. says Helmut Seitz. bra in an d gastrointes ti n al tract. p 40). p 1998) . The mutation is dominant so even having on e copy causes problems. with up to 5 per cent of all breast att ack DNA in m uch th e sam e way it do es cancers att ribu ta ble to alcohol consump tion. The ave rage liver can pr ocess about 7 grams of ethanol a n hour . he says . " It rem ains to be so lved how fast ace taldehyde disappe ars. the faulty version of ALDH2 was www. "It's a common mi sconception that the brain and the liver ar e the two organs most a ffect ed by alcoh ol abuse. Mikko Salaspu ro. Alzheim er's disease a nd can cer gastroenterologist at the University Central (New Scient ist.Almost eve ry tis sue in th e bo dy is eq uip pe d with the enz ymes known as alde hyde dehydrogen ase s (ALDHs). a he art att acks. and can trigger tu m ours 20 to 25 yea rs later. acet aldehyde will soon be considered to be res ear ch ers at t he US Nat ion al Institute on ca rcin ogen ic in humans. possib ly longer. which convert ace ta ldehyde to harm less acetic acid. most flushers tend to avoid alcohol. Th is w ill initiate stru ctur e and function. A recen t study of 818 heavy dr inkers in Germany found that those individuals who ar e exposed to m ore acet aldehyde as a result of a genetic defect in this case. Almost as soon thes e people have an alcoholic drin k. Hospital of Helsinki .
Air pollution adds to the to xic load. Acetalde hyde is spewed out by veh icle engines. Nevertheless. In experiment s with rats . produces 100 ti m es more acetaldehyde wh en exp o sed to ethanol com pared with other m icro organism s iso lated from the mouth. Biomarkers & Prevention . avoid sm oke. Germ -bus ting mouthwash co uld also help.newscientisLcom aceta ldehyde . intestines using preblotics or probiotics. " Seitz points out.The gum contain s a harmless am ino acid. Mouthwash contai nin g the ant isepti c chlorhexidine has be en shown to slash th e numbers of acetaldehyde-p roducing m icroo rganisms in t h e mou th . "Som e yog hu rt producers are searching for new bact eria that are even better acetaldehyde produ cers.signi ficantly more common than am ong a randomly chosen group of h ealthy people of the same age (Annals ofthe New l'ork Academy ofSciences. Burning tobacco creates acetaldehyde that dissolves in saliva." And if you live in a city. • Lisa Melton isa science writer based in London 10 F ebruary 10071 NewScientisllH . It gets wors e . "It is not necessary to drink huge am ou nts of alcohol . Lactulose . most of the ex cess ace ta ldehyde you encounter co mes fro m alcohol. Strept ococcus salivarius. vol 37 p 153)· Then t her e is acet aldehyde in th e diet. says Salaspuro. One mouth-dwelling bug. indigestible sugar . and acetaldehyde in saliva is a big problem.coming at us from all sides. in gestin g a dose ofliving microorganisms that don 't produce acetaldehyde. an indi vidu al sm oker 's can cer risk is stro ngly as sociated with acetaldehyde levels in their saliva and some rese ar chers n ow believe that acetaldehyde may be one of the prin cipal carcinogens in cigarette smoke. or are exposed to other people's smoke. Among smoker s. The gum is being commerciali se d by a Fin nis h company ca lled Bioh lt. There is still only one sure route to a n acetaldehyde-free life : keep it clean.is one ca n didate for th e job. The re m ay be huge vari ations between individuals. Combine tobacco and alcoho l and the danger multiplies. For ce nt uries. Sherry producers. As a result. "It depends on the kinds of flora you have . the ris k of oral canc er is 7 to 10 times higher than for people wh o have never smoked.and evidence of its toxicity . and the more alcohol you drink the m ore ace taldehyde you are ex posed to. the toxic effect s persist for longer. P 36). i\not her solution proposed by th e Fin n ish team is to tinker with th e bugs living in your Diet dilemma Acetaldehyde in saliva also comes fro m th e bugs that co lon ise th e mouth and dig estive tra ct. None of th es e interventions has been shown to prevent canc er. wh ich reacts with acetaldehyde and rem oves it from saliva. so acetaldehyd e m ay well not be the only culprit. though no bo dy is q uite sure how much this affects our h ealth. such as some Lactobacillu s and Bifidobact erium species. The result s show that poor denta l hygien e comes with at wofold in crea se in ace taldehyde leve ls (Oral Oncology. p 146). Scrub your teeth. There are . the Fin nish researchers foun d that t reat m ent wit h chlorhexidine for three days cut acetaldehyde leve ls in drinkers ' saliva by 40 per cent. vol IS." Salaspuro says. " I don't know of any other cancers in which the associations are so strong. Calvados is particularly rich in acetal dehyde. So who is at risk? As a general rul e. compared with those who ab sta in from both. Salaspuro and colleagues at th e Unive rsity of Helsinki . It's a lso worth hearing in m ind that m any alcoholic drin ks conta in acet aldehyd e from t he word go. With ace taldehyde . say Seit z and Salaspuro. according to Salaspuro. peoples have used bacte rial fer mentation to produce food -eve ryth ing from p ickles an d yogurts to bread and cheese. www. Aceta lde hyde also occ urs natu rally in ripe fr u it and coffee. for ins tan ce. Unlike th e liver with its detoxify ing en zy mes. downs of carci no gens in tobacco smoke. Alternatively. is particularly goo d at to ss ing out aceta ldehyd e. Others absorb ethanol from alcoholic d rinks and turn it in to aceta lde hyde ." says Salaspuro. and next time you 'r e recovering from a ha ngover . The Fin ni sh researchers collecte d saliva samples fro m 132 volunteers who differed not on ly in the ir drink ing and smoking habits but als o in th e standard of t heir dent al hyg iene. t -cysteine. Some people harbour o rganisms th at are particularly good at producing acetaldehyde. Salasp uro hopes the gum co uld help pr event d iges tive tr act ca ncers in th ose who are most at risk . cou ld als o help. lactulosc appea rs to inhibit acetalde hyde production by m ak in g the colon more acid ic. The effect is synergistic. for example. of course. Micro bial ace tald ehyde produ ction coul d also explain why people with poo r d enta l hygiene have an in creas ed ris k of mouth cancer. If you smoke . and in a st ud y with 10 vo lunteers. Another. the mouth's mucous m embranes are pretty poor at bre ak ing down acetald ehyde. you r acetaldehyde load rises fu rth er. so cannot as yet be recommended as a su bstit ute for a healthy lifestyle. Neisseria.even low amounts of ethanol taken regula rly in a se n sit ive per so n in cr eases their risk. There is no abso lu tely sa fe level of consum p tio n . are developing a chewing gum tha t mops up acetaldehyde. Where th ere is fer m en tation there is Las t yea r the team releas ed a study showing t ha t a piece of gum co n tai ni ng jus t 5 mill igram s of t-cysteine coul d totally eliminate aceta ldehyde hom saliva if che wed whil e smoking (Cancer Epidemiology.a ha rmless. "Com pan ies m aking da iry products someti mes try to increase the acetaldehyde level to give it a spe cia l aromat ic taste. vol 1011. This co uld ex plai n th e Iso -fold rise in oral cancers seen in people who are both alco ho lics and sm oker s. and regular calvados dr inkers h ave twice th e in ciden ce of oesophag eal and oral can cer compared with wine d rink ers who con sume the same amount of alcohol. Many of these churn out acetaldehyde as part of their norm al biochemistry. th ere's more. it 's not surp rising that scientists are busy developing ways to neut ra lise the threat. encourage acetaldehyde product ion fo r its fruity arom a. remember to promise yo ur in tern al organs that this ti me rea lly will be the las t." says Salaspuro.
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