A person’s genetically predetermined efficiency for alcohol metabolism factors into a predisposition for the development of alcoholism.
Alcoholism is a both a genetically expressed hereditary disease, and also a disease profoundly influenced by environmental variables. The genetic component for a predisposition to alcoholism is not yet entirely understood, but researchers have linked certain gene expression differences (that influence the metabolism of alcohol) with a decreased risk of developing alcoholism.
Contrarily, although these same people enjoy a reduction of risk to the expression of the disease, those that do drink heavily seem to suffer more severely from their consumption. Certain groups of people share a common enzymatic gene expression that leads to inefficiency in metabolizing alcohol. This makes the consumption of alcohol less pleasant, and also more harmful.
How is alcohol metabolized in the body?
Ethanol –>acetaldehyde–>acetate–> water and carbon dioxide
Ethanol (Alcohol) as consumed in the body goes through two enzymatic transitions before it is completely metabolized out of the body. Ethanol is first broken down into the enzyme acetaldehyde, and then further broken down into the enzyme acetate, which can be in turn reduced to water and carbon dioxide for expulsion from the body. Acetate is relatively harmless and inactive, but acetaldehyde is a toxic and very active substance and is a known carcinogen. The intermediate stage at which ethanol is transformed to acetaldehyde is brief, but with enough exposure, this acetaldehyde can influence the development of cancers of the mouth, esophagus, the digestive tract, the pancreas, liver and the breast.
Genetic differences in the metabolism of ethanol
Certain groups of people, most notably many people of a Korean, Chinese and Japanese decent enjoy a genetic expression that protects them from alcoholism, but that increases the harm of heavy drinking if it does occur. The metabolism from ethanol through acetaldehyde to acetate generally happens quickly; and the quicker the acetaldehyde is metabolized into acetate, the less harmful the consumption of alcohol and the more enjoyable the consumption.
Certain groups of people endure a contrasting efficiency and then inefficiency in the breakdown of alcohol. That is they can transition ethanol into acetaldehyde relatively quickly, but are slow to convert acetaldehyde into acetate. These people tend to exhibit a reddened and flushed face after a small amount of drinking and are also more prone to experienced nausea and a weakened and quickened heart rate after drinking. The act of drinking is far less pleasant, and as such, people with this particular gene expression don’t tend to drink as heavily, and suffer far lower probabilities of developing alcoholism.
If people with this particular genetic expression do continue to drink through the negative experienced symptoms, they can develop alcohol abuse problems and dependencies just as readily as the general population, but since their bodies are exposed to the toxic and carcinogenic acetaldehyde for far longer, these people are at a greatly increased risk for certain cancers and other negative long term health risks associated with chronic alcohol consumption.
The red faced warning!!!
If you or a loved one is one of those easy to spot drinkers who go fire engine red after a drink or two, you should be especially cautious of heavy alcohol consumption. If you think that you may be inefficiently metabolizing alcohol, yet do drink heavily; you do need to cut down on your drinking, and get professional intervention and treatment if needed. Alcohol abuse is destructive for anyone, but for people who do not process acetaldehyde well, it is particularly devastating.