A stomach enzyme deficit may place women at more risk from drinking alcohol

  • Women are more susceptible to the toxic effects of alcohol on the liver, heart muscle, skeletal muscle, and likely the pancreas and the brain.
  • When men and women drink the same amount of alcohol, women develop higher blood alcohol levels than men do.
  • The stomach's metabolism of alcohol may be a link between women's greater risk of certain alcohol-related diseases and higher blood alcohol levels after drinking.
In most cultures, including the United States, alcohol is the most frequently used drug. Although American men with alcohol-related problems continue to outnumber American women at a ratio of roughly three to one, women appear to have a greater vulnerability to alcohol-related diseases. This may be due to the fact that, when both genders drink the same amount of alcohol, women develop higher blood alcohol levels than men do. A study in the April issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research searches for the mechanisms that may cause this effect, concentrating on the stomach's role in metabolizing alcohol.

"It has been known for a long time," said Steven Schenker, professor of medicine and pharmacology at The University of Texas, Health Science Center at San Antonio, "that, in general, both women and female animals are more susceptible to the negative or toxic effects of alcohol. This is true for the liver, heart muscle, skeletal muscle, and it may be true for the pancreas and the brain. In other words, there is something about the female gender that makes them more susceptible to toxic amounts of alcohol."

Charles S. Lieber, professor of medicine and pathology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, chief of the Alcohol Research and Treatment Center at the Bronx VA Medical Center, and the study's lead author, agrees. "For example," he said, "women have a higher propensity to develop liver disease than men. In fact, some studies have shown that the minimal amount necessary to produce cirrhosis in the liver in

Contact: Charles S. Lieber, M.D.
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research

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