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Alcohol 'flush' signals increased cancer risk among East Asians
Date:3/23/2009

s colleagues explain that ALDH2 plays an important role in alcohol metabolism. When alcohol is consumed, it is first metabolized into acetaldehyde, a chemical similar to formaldehyde, which causes DNA damage and has other cancer-promoting effects. ALDH2 is the main enzyme responsible for breaking down acetaldehyde into acetate, a non-toxic metabolite in the body.

East Asians have two main variants of the ALDH2 gene -- one that produces an enzyme with normal activity, and another that results in an inactive enzyme. When individuals with the inactive variant drink alcohol, acetaldehyde accumulates in the body, resulting in facial flushing, nausea, and rapid heartbeat. For people with two copies of the inactive variant, these symptoms are so severe that they can drink very little alcohol. However, individuals with only one copy of the inactive variant can become tolerant to the unpleasant effects of acetaldehyde, which puts them at risk for alcohol-related esophageal cancer.

A series of epidemiologic studies by Akira Yokoyama and his colleagues in Japan have shown that individuals with one copy of the inactive variant are about 6-10 times more likely to develop esophageal cancer than are individuals with the fully active ALDH2 enzyme who drink comparable amounts of alcohol. Notably, these studies showed that individuals with the inactive variant who drink the equivalent of 33 or more U.S. standard drinks per week have a 89-fold increased risk of esophageal cancer compared to non-drinkers. Dr. Yokoyama is a co-author of the latest report.

The researchers add that many ALDH2-deficient university students may have their first experiences with heavy drinking while in college. Therefore, it is particularly important for university health professionals to be aware of the relationship between ALDH2-deficiency, facial flushing, and alcohol-related cancer risk. Informing ALDH2-deficient young people of their risk of esophageal cancer from alcohol
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Contact: NIAAA Press Office
niaaapressoffice@mail.nih.gov
301-443-3860
NIH/National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Source:Eurekalert

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