Consuming certain types of alcohol over long periods of time as well as binge drinking both speed up biological aging, according to a Northwestern Medicine study published in the journal Aging.
The study, led by Lifang Hou, MD, PhD, chief of Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention in the Department of Preventive Medicine and a professor of Pediatrics, found that certain types of alcohol impact epigenetic aging differently, findings that could help shape future health interventions that promote healthy aging and prevent age- and alcohol-related chronic diseases.
“Our findings provide novel insight into the association between cumulative alcohol-specific consumption on biological aging, illustrating the type of alcohol consumed may impact the aging process differently,” said Drew Nannini, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Hou laboratory and lead author of the study.
Alcohol consumption has previously been linked to the development of many diseases, including hypertension, cancer and liver disease, and previous work has explored its association with biological aging. However, research examining the impact of alcohol consumption over a long period of time, as well as binge drinking (more than five drinks in one setting) on biological aging has been limited.
In the current study, Hou and colleagues examined whether cumulative alcohol consumption — the number of years a person consumes beer, liquor, wine, and total alcohol consumption — as well as the presence of recent binge drinking were associated with four measures of age-related epigenetic age acceleration.
The investigators analyzed DNA methylation levels in blood samples of participants enrolled in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study; participants with alcohol consumption and methylation data at examination year 15 (1,030 participants) and year 20 (945 participants) were included.
Using these data, the investigators measured four measures of epigenetic aging: intrinsic epigenetic age acceleration (associated with cell-intrinsic aging), extrinsic epigenetic age acceleration (associated with immunological aging), PhenoAge acceleration (associated with comorbidities and physical function) and GrimAge acceleration (associated with lifespan).
Overall, the investigators found positive associations between cumulative consumption of liquor and total alcohol with GrimAge acceleration, as well as the number of days of binge drinking with GrimAge acceleration.
Additionally, they identified noticeable differences between chronological age and cumulative beer and total alcohol consumption with GrimAge acceleration, with younger participants demonstrating greater biological aging compared to older participants.
“Our results highlight the negative impact of excessive alcohol consumption, such as binge drinking, on biological aging,” Nannini said.
Nannini added that his team is now interested in studying whether there is an association between alcohol-related epigenetic age changes and poor health outcomes, as well as whether changes to a person’s alcohol consumption patterns could potentially slow or reverse biological aging altogether.
Co-authors of the study include Brian Joyce, PhD, research assistant professor of Preventive Medicine in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention; Yinan Zheng, ‘17 PhD, assistant professor of Preventive Medicine in the division of Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention; Tao Gao, MD, research assistant professor of Preventive Medicine in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention; Jun Wang, PhD, research associate professor of Preventive Medicine in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention; Philip Greenland, MD, the Harry W. Dingman Professor of Cardiology; and Donald Lloyd-Jones, MD, ScM, the chair and Eileen M. Foell Professor of Preventive Medicine.
Hou is also the director of the Center for Global Oncology in the Robert J. Havey, MD Institute for Global Health. Hou, Joyce, Zheng and Greenland are members of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.
This work was supported by the American Heart Association grants 17SFRN33700278 and 14SFRN20790000, National Institute on Aging grants R21AG063370 and R21AG068955), and the Longer Life Foundation.