, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 59-65

Alcohol consumption by orientals in North America is predicted largely by a single gene

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Abstract

Orientals consume significantly less alcohol, and show a lower prevalence of alcohol abuse and dependence, than Caucasians. Sociological theories propose that this difference is due mainly to cultural factors. Physiological theories have suggested that the flushing reaction experienced by some Orientals serves as a deterrent to ethanol consumption. The flushing reaction is observed mainly in individuals who possess a mutation in the high-affinity aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2) which renders the enzyme inactive. However, the tendency to flush correlates poorly with alcohol consumption, thus casting doubt on the physiological interpretations. The present study investigates the influence of the ALDH2 allele and of acculturation in North America on alcohol consumption by Orientals born in Canada or the United States. Oriental males carrying the inactive ALDH2(−) allele drink two-thirds less alcohol (6.1±1.5 vs. 18.2±2.8 drinks/4 weeks;p<0.001), show one-third the prevalence of binge drinking (15.2 vs 42.2%;p<0.01), and are three times more likely to be abstainers (39.4 vs. 13.3%;p<0.01) than Oriental ALDH2(+) males carrying the gene for the active enzyme. There were no significant differences in binge drinking or abstinence rates between ALDH2(+) Orientals and Caucasian males. Acculturation in North American society accounted for only 7–11% of the variance in overall consumption (p<0.02). It is concluded that a single mutation in the high-affinity aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2) gene predicts two-thirds of the alcohol consumption and excessive alcohol use by Oriental males born in North America.