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Enzyme Activity Explains Why Women Get Drunk Faster

Friday April 20, 2001

Enzyme Activity Explains Why Women Get Drunk Faster

By Suzanne Rostler

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A new study sheds light on why a couple of martinis can inspire an otherwise reserved women to become the life of the party while her male counterpart sits soberly in the corner sipping his fourth drink.

According to the report, a chemical found in the stomach that helps digest alcohol, known as alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), is less active in women, making them more susceptible to the effects of wine and hard liquor but not beer.

When given drinks containing 10% and 40% alcohol, women metabolized the alcohol more slowly than men, allowing higher amounts of alcohol to travel into their blood. Alcohol also remained in the stomach about 43% longer in women after they consumed drinks containing 10% and 40% alcohol. But there was no difference in metabolism when it came to drinks containing 5% alcohol, the researchers report in the April issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

``In other words, women respond to beer in the same way as men, but not to wine or hard liquor,"" Dr. Charles Lieber, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Bronx VA Medical Center in New York City and the study's lead author, said in a prepared statement.

``The study gives women one more reason why they are more susceptible to alcohol than men,"" he told Reuters Health.

The researchers also measured levels of three types of ADH in the stomachs of the people in the study, and found that class III ADH enzymes were 58% less active in women than in men.

These findings, the researchers write, help to explain why women appear to have higher rates of alcohol-related diseases such cirrhosis when they drink the same amount of alcohol as men. Lower body weights and more fatty tissue also make women more vulnerable to the effects of drinking.

``Women simply need to be more cautious than males in terms of the amount of drinking that they do,"" Dr. Steven Schenker, a professor of medicine and pharmacology at the University of Texas, said in a news release.

The study adds to earlier research showing that lower ADH activity in women affects their alcohol tolerance.

``In alcoholic women, both effects are combined,"" Lieber said, equating the effects of having a drink for an alcoholic women with injecting alcohol directly into a vein. The study included 65 healthy men and women who consumed drinks that contained 5%, 10% or 40% alcohol after eating a meal. The researchers monitored blood alcohol levels and compared the results with levels of alcohol in the blood after they injected equal doses intravenously.

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 2001;25:502-507.

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