Gene helps Jews resist alcoholism
Genes, and not religious conviction, explain why
Jewish people typically have fewer drink problems than non-Jews, researchers
said last night.A study has shown that a genetic mutation carried
by at least a fifth of Jews appears to protect against alcoholism.
The same inherited trait is fairly common in Asian people, but is
much rarer in white Europeans. The findings could help explain why
Israel has one of the lowest levels of alcoholism in the developed
The study's author, Dr Deborah Hasin, from Columbia
University and New York State Psychiatric Institute, said: "This
finding adds to the growing body of evidence that this genetic variation
has a protective effect against alcoholism among Jewish groups."
The mutation, called ADH2*2, is involved in the way the body breaks
down alcohol in the bloodstream.
Scientists are unsure exactly how it protects against
alcoholism, but it is thought to increase levels of the toxic chemical
acetaldehyde - a by-product of alcohol metabolism. At high levels,
acetaldehyde causes headaches, nausea and flushing.Almost all white
Europeans lack the ADH2*2 variation and so produce less of the by-product.
Thus drinking tends to be more pleasurable, increasing the risks of
alcoholism. Past research has shown that the variant is found in 20
per cent of Jewish people. Those with the variant tend to drink less
frequently, consume less alcohol overall or have more unpleasant reactions
The new study, published today in the journal Alcoholism:
Clinical and Experimental Research, looked at the relationship between
the gene variant and alcoholism among 75 Israeli Jews aged 22 to 65.Those
with ADH2*2 had "significantly lower indicators of alcohol dependence".
The protective effect of the gene depended on the
country of origin and how recently they had arrived in Israel.The
effect was strongest for Ashkenazis, Jews of European background and
arrivals from Russia before 1989, and the Sephardics, those of Middle
Eastern and North African background, than for more recent immigrants
from the former Soviet Union, she said.Among those with the gene variant,
the recent Russian immigrants tended to have a history of much heavier
drinking than their Sephardic and Ashkenazic counterparts.Dr Hasin
said: "Russia has one of the highest levels of alcohol consumption
whereas Israel has one of the lowest."
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