Diet, and not only the environment and physiological changes, may have an influence on the length of telomeres, showing caffeine seems to shorten and alcohol seems to lengthen telomeres. This has been discovered for the first time in tests on yeast cells in the lab by researchers at Tel Aviv University, published in PLOS Genetics.
Caffeine and alcohol affect cellular aging, genome stability and the risk for different diseases, said Prof. Martin Kupiec and other members of his team, Dr. Gal Hagit Romano and Yaniv Harary.
They tested how different environmental stressors affect elements of the genome in living yeast cells that are used for making bread and beer. Their results show that caffeine and alcohol alter the length of telomeres.
Until now, said Romano, the common assumption was telomere shortening was due to mental stress, physiological changes – accumulation of free radicals and oxidative stress.
To test this assumption, Kupiec’s team grew cells under oxidative stress. Surprisingly, telomere length was not changed. The team then exposed cells to 13 different environmental stressors (temperature and pH changes, different drugs and chemicals).
Although most treatments had no impact on telomere length, several compounds with which humans have daily encounters significantly altered telomere length. A low concentration of caffeine, similar to the amount found in one shot of espresso, for example, significantly shortened telomeres, while exposure to a 5 percent to 7 percent alcohol solution disrupted the mechanism maintaining telomere length, resulting in long and heterogeneous telomeres.
Although the yeast used in the study shares many important genetic similarities with humans, more work will need to be done to see if the same results definitively translate in animals and people.