Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol damages parts of the cells that are linked to premature ageing and cancer, Italian researchers have found.
Researchers at the University of Milan have discovered that drinking causes stress and inflammation to telomeres the ends of DNA strands, which are important for the genetic stability of the cell.
Damage causes telomeres to shorten progressively as we age and eventually they are so damaged the cell dies.
As the shortening of telomeres is thought to increase cancer risk, researchers concluded that people with shortened telomeres due to heavy alcohol consumption were at a greater risk of developing cancer.
The researchers looked at more than 250 volunteers of around the same age, 59 of whom drank more than four alcoholic drinks per day.
Results showed that telomere length was dramatically shortened in those who consumed heavy amounts of alcohol.
In some individuals, telomere length was nearly half as long as those who enjoyed moderate amounts of alcohol.
"Heavy alcohol users tend to look haggard, and it is commonly thought heavy drinking leads to premature ageing and earlier onset of diseases of ageing," lead researcher Dr Andrea Baccarelli said in a media release.
"All the cells in our body have a biological clock in telomeres."
The results were presented at the American Association for Cancer Research's annual conference on Tuesday.