September 20, 2013

Alcohol throws off circadian clock to damage liver

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mix liver cells bottlesHaving evolved to keep time with our planet's rhythms – day and night, light and dark – we are wired at the genetic level to sleep at night and to wake and eat during the day. Research in recent years revealed that genetic and protein feedback loops – or clocks – operate in 24-hour cycles in every human cell. The clocks signal to thousands of genes, many of which speed up our ability to make and use energy from food during the day and turn it down at night.

Bucking those patterns – say by the working the night shift – has been shown to increase a person’s risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, depression, etc.

In a new twist, Shannon Bailey, Ph.D., associate professor in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Pathology within the UAB School of Medicine, just published a study that found chronic alcohol use may interfere with the genetic clocks in liver cells to accelerate liver damage. Dr. Bailey is a longtime liver disease expert with a new research focus on the role of circadian clocks in alcohol-related liver damage.

We thought to ask her whether too many martinis can throw off molecular clocks and, from a circadian point of view, what the healthiest hour is to drink a glass of wine.