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Analyzing Alcohol Consumption Among Asians

Posted in Research

While scientists are working to dig into the genetic component of alcoholism, there is still much that is unknown about how alcoholism develops. The complex combination of environmental and biological factors makes it difficult to point to specific causes of alcoholism. Instead, each individual has specific biological risk levels that are affected in varying ways by circumstances, relationships and experiences.

Recently, a group of researchers sought to better understand the role of genetics in alcohol consumption. The study authors studied 1,721 Korean male drinkers who were all aged 40 to 69 years. The group was taken from an urban population-based cohort, along with an additional 1,113 male drinkers from an independent rural cohort.

The researchers gathered various information from the participants, including average daily alcohol consumption. DNA samples were also collected from the participants in order to complete genotyping.

The study was conducted as a genome-wide association (GWA) analysis, in which it was found that 12 single-nucleotide polymorphisms on chromosome 12q24 had genome-wide significant associations with alcohol consumption. The polymorphisms have a close relation with genes that determine the levels of ALDH. Low levels of ALDH correspond to flushing after even small amounts of alcohol are consumed. These types of enzymes appear much more frequently in Asians than among western populations.

The association analyzed in the study was only concerned with the weekly amount of alcohol consumed, not with any patterns of drinking. Therefore, the results, while offering an additional clue into the genetic association with alcohol consumption, do not offer any direct measure of alcoholism.

The authors of the study suggest in their accompanying editorial that the epidemiological patterns show that those who begin drinking at a young age may be increasing their risk for extended problems with alcohol and more serious problems with alcohol than those who begin drinking at a later age.

The authors also stress that the results of the study underscore the need to examine the interplay of genetic factors and environmental influences when determining the cause of alcoholism in any individual or group of people. While this study gives new added information about the genetic contribution to alcohol consumption, there is a very complicated group of factors influencing any case of alcoholism.

Further research is necessary to understand the genetic influence involved drinking patterns and consumption amounts. As scientists work to uncover the specific genetic functions of alcoholism, each new clue will be important for moving to effective treatment for the disorder.