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Could Beer Help You Live Longer?

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For many people beer is essential for a good time. Some tout beer’s healthful benefits. Now Israeli scientists are making the case that beer can even alter your DNA and lead to a longer life.

And maybe it’s not just beer. What researchers at Tel Aviv University's Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology really discovered is that alcohol extends the length of your DNA’s telomeres. Their results were published in PLOS Genetics.

Telomeres are little caps on the end of each strand of DNA in your chromosomes. They’ve been compared to the plastic protectors (called aglets) that keep your shoelaces from fraying.

Every time your cells divide, your chromosomes are copied into the new cell. But here’s the problem. The new telomeres are slightly shorter. As telomeres shorten, your cells have a harder time dividing into healthy cells. When the telomeres become too short, the cell dies.

Longer telomeres have been associated with health, beauty, and a longer life. Shorter telomeres have been associated with chronic diseases of aging, cancer, and a shorter life.

In 2009, Prof. Elizabeth Blackburn won the Nobel Prize for her work discovering how telomeres protect chromosomes. Professor Blackburn suggested that emotional stress caused telomeres to shorten and exhibit the characteristic signs of aging. She hypothesized that this happened when stress generated free radicals in the cells.

But the Israeli researchers were surprised to find that free radicals did not seem to affect telomere length. In laboratory experiments, they worked with certain yeast that shares genetic similarities to humans.

They found that certain environmental factors alter telomere length but not through the mechanism of oxidation or free radicals.

Besides finding that alcohol significantly lengthens telomeres, the researchers had some bad news for coffee lovers. They found that caffeine shortens telomeres.

Telomere length is a complex dance. The researchers found that about 400 genes interact to maintain telomere length. They concluded that telomere length is very exact but can be affected by environmental stressors.

What does all this mean for you?

While the genes in yeast are very similar to the human genome, more laboratory work is needed to determine whether human telomeres respond to the same signals as yeast. Also, strong correlations have been found between telomere length and the diseases of aging, including cancer. But causality has yet to be established.

In the meantime, the researchers advise more relaxation, a little less caffeine and a little more beer. Who can argue with that?

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