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Friday, July 12, 2013

Critique 116: Effects of genetic factors on metabolism of alcohol — 10 July 2013

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This paper presents an excellent summary of the effects of genetically determined enzymes that affect the metabolism of alcohol; such factors relate strongly to both the rewarding and the aversive effects of alcohol. Of almost 100 genes that have been found to relate to alcohol metabolism, the two major ones appear to be alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase. The authors describe the metabolism of alcohol into acetaldehyde by alcohol dehydrogenase, and then focus especially on the metabolism of acetaldehyde by aldehyde dehydrogenase-2.

Previous studies have shown that 20-40% of individuals of East Asian origin have a point mutation in the genes that code for high affinity aldehyde dehydrogenase-2; such people tend to show high levels of acetaldehyde and develop flushing, tachycardia, headache, nausea, and emesis from even small amounts of alcohol. Being very intolerant of alcohol, they are at very low risk of alcohol abuse. This mutation is much less common among European and North American populations.  > > > >   Read More