Everyday Toxicology I: Alcohol

  • Philip C. Burcham


The potential benefits to cardiovascular health accompanying moderate wine consumption are undermined in heavy drinkers who risk harming multiple body systems. The resulting health disorders are classified according to whether they are ‘partly’ or ‘wholly’ attributable to alcohol. The former include hypertension and breast cancer, while those in the latter category, which typically attract most toxicological attention, include alcoholic liver disease, alcoholic myopathy, alcoholic neuropathy and foetal alcohol syndrome. Alcohol suffers a complex metabolic fate in vivo, with a key pathogenetic role likely for acetaldehyde, the primary oxidative metabolite of ethanol. Protein and DNA adduction feature prominently in the toxicity of this toxic electrophile. Alcohol also undergoes nonoxidative metabolism to form such conjugative metabolites as ethyl-glucuronide, ethyl-sulfate and fatty acid ethyl esters. These metabolites find growing use as biomarkers of alcohol intake and appear especially useful during the diagnosis of foetal alcohol syndrome.


Acetaldehyde Alcoholic liver disease Cardiac myopathy Cirrhosis CYP2E1 Endotoxin Ethyl-glucuronide N2-ethyl-dGuo Ethyl-sulfate Fatty acid ethyl esters Foetal alcohol syndrome Hybrid adducts Peripheral neuropathy Protein carbonylation 

Going Further

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philip C. Burcham
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Medicine and PharmacologyThe University of Western AustraliaPerthAustralia

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