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Booze in Your Genes

Attention all hepatologists, booze aficionados, and weekend drinkers – there might just be something of interest in the latest piece of alcohol research from the United States.


The Study

A paper published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research details the results of a study of 238 university students with regards to alcoholism. The 238 students underwent a genetic study, as did their siblings. All test subjects were between 18 and 29 at the time of the study, and all had a family history of at least one alcohol-depended parent – but were not personally alcohol-dependent. The study itself was based on previous research that suggested the CYP2E1 gene may be responsible for alcohol resistance.

The Method

The scientists used a standardised test and questionnaire to assess the participants’ alcohol resistance. First, the participants had their breath alcohol and body swaying levels measured, and answered aquestionnaire before they were asked to drink a standard amount of alcohol over a period of 8 minutes, followed by another measurement of the above mentioned parameters at one, two and three hours after ingestion of alcohol. Alcohol resistance level was arbitrarily set as the response at at one hour after ingestion.

They found out that the gene CYP2E1, which is a region of DNA at the end of the long arm of chromosome 10, produces the CYP2E1 protein – and is involved in breaking down chemicals. This process is especially effective with regards to alcohol, and hence is associated with alcohol resistance.

What Does it Mean?

It may all sound too good to be true – finding a gene that can improve one’s resistance to alcohol. As well as great news to the party animals out there, it may also sound like good news for doctors who want to curb alcoholism by modifying this gene – thus saving NHS money in treating patients with alcoholism and its associated diseases. But in fact, these findings will require further research studies to confirm this single study’s results. Moreover, as is often the case in medicine, the causes of a particular condition are multifactorial – an individual’s alcohol tolerance is not only determined by genetics factors. In addition to the effect of the CYP2E1 gene, there are also variations to the gene which produce the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase which breaks down alcohol. Resistance is also determined by environmental factors, such as previous exposure to alcohol.

So – the hangover cure, or party people cure-all is still a few years off – but perhaps this US study will prove to be instrumental in developing treatments for one of the most common afflictions in the western world.

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