Recent Developments in Alcoholism

Volume 12 of the series Recent Developments in Alcoholism pp 163-179

Gender Differences in Alcohol Metabolism

Physiological Responses to Ethanol
  • Holly R. ThomassonAffiliated withLilly Laboratory for Clinical Research, Wishard Memorial Hospital, Eli Lilly and Company

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A gender difference in alcohol pharmacokinetics has been suggested to explain why women are more vulnerable to ethanol’s toxic effects. The results of animal experiments suggest that females exhibit higher alcohol metabolic rates than males as a result of hormonal differences. Experimental results examining gender differences in human alcohol metabolism have been inconsistent; the diversity of experimental protocols and variety of pharmacokinetic parameters reported have made comparisons of these studies very difficult. Variability in alcohol metabolic rate between individuals of the same sex is often significant, preventing an assessment of gender differences in some studies. This chapter attempts to summarize the findings of studies from the last decade that examined the role of gender and sex hormone differences on ethanol metabolism in men and women. The role of body composition, genetic factors, gastric and hepatic alcohol dehydrogenase, and gastric absorption in creating gender differences in alcohol metabolism is discussed. Suggestions are offered that may result in better cross-study comparisons and more consistent experimental results.