We are aware of the consequences of alcohol abuse, but new research has given us yet another reason to be wary of drinking too much. According to a study from Japan, alcohol can damage telomeres, the protective ends of our DNA; shortened telomeres are linked to cellular aging, and could also raise your risk for certain diseases.

The research found that individuals with a history of alcohol abuse had shorter telomeres, a sign that their cells may be aging faster than an individual of the same age without this history. In addition to being a sign of aging, shortened telomeres can also raise the risk of a number of serious health conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, dementia and heart disease, Yahoo reported.

Read: Childhood Trauma May Shorten Telomeres, Cause Early Aging In Adults

“Our study showed that alcoholic patients have a shortened telomere length, which means that heavy drinking causes biological aging at a cellular level,” said study researcher Naruhisa Yamaki, in a recent statement on Newswise. “It is alcohol rather than acetaldehyde that is associated with a shortened telomere length.”

For the research, which was recently presented at the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA) in Denver this past week, researchers from Kobe University in Japan looked at the DNA of 225 individuals, 134 alcoholic patients and 121 age-matched controls, or non-alcoholics. The individuals' ages ranged from 41 to 85.

Results revealed that the telomeres of those who struggled with alcohol abuse were shorter than the controls, something that the researchers believe is a hallmark sign of how alcohol abuse speeds up aging on a cellular level. The team suspect that the oxidation stress caused by alcohol abuse may lead to the telomere shortening. In addition, there was a link between telomere shortening and thiamine deficiency (TD), a condition known to contribute to neuron impairments.

“TD is known to cause neuron impairments such as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. Although how exactly TD can cause neural impairments is unclear, it is well known that oxidation stress cause telomere shortening and, thus, it is possible that oxidation stress may also cause neuron death,” explained Yamaki. The syndrome is a brain disorder caused by a vitamin deficiency, Healthline reported.

When cells divide the telomeres, or the protective caps on the end of our chromosomes, shorten. As we age, our cells divide more and as a result the telomeres further shorten. However, the increased shortening seen in the telomeres of the alcoholics show that their cells are aging faster than they would normally. In addition, research has found that other factors, such as childhood trauma, can also cause telomeres to shorten at an accelerated speed.

While drinking and trauma may shorten telomeres, other activities, such as exercise, can actually lengthen them. For example, a 2013 study found that telomere length can increase by up to 10 percent in individuals who exercise and have an active lifestyle. Just as shortened telomeres are associated with increased risk for disease, lengthened telomeres are associated with less disease and longer life.

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A Healthy Lifestyle May Lengthen Telomeres, Reversing Cellular Aging