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A sweet tooth may be a 'marker' for the genetic risk for developing alcoholism

  • Prior research has found an association between a liking for sweets and alcohol intake.
  • New research indicates that a liking for sweets precedes alcoholism.
  • A liking for sweets, among individuals with a family history of alcoholism, may serve as a "marker" for the genetic risk for developing alcoholism.

Researchers know that genes can influence who may develop alcoholism. Although both animal and human research has also found an association between a liking for sweets and alcohol intake, it has been unclear if a liking for sweets among humans was caused by years of drinking or was linked to a genetic predisposition for alcoholism. Findings published in the November issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research indicate that a liking for sweets precedes alcoholism and may in fact serve as a "marker" for the genetic risk for developing alcoholism.

"Previous research has established that in mammals such as mice, rats and monkeys, the preference for and consumption of sweet fluids are strongly correlated with voluntary alcohol intake," said Alexei B. Kampov-Polevoy, assistant professor of psychiatry at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine and first author of the study. "It is thus possible to measure the amount of sweet solution that an animal drinks per day and accurately predict how much alcohol it will drink if given a chance."

Kampov's prior research also showed that alcoholic patients prefer stronger sweet solutions than do non-alcoholics. "However," said Kampov, "it was not clear whether the increase in sweet preference was caused by a long history of drinking or if a higher sweet preference existed before the onset of alcoholism and somehow reflects predisposition for this disease. Our present manuscript is focused on resolving this issue."

Researchers recruited 163 social drinkers from a university setting, dividing them into two groups: 81 (27 males, 54 females) had a paternal history of al
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