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Around one in 12 adults carry the gene, according to scientists, which results in the body not being able to break down alcohol properly. The study has now demonstrated the variant also reduces dilation of blood vessels which can cause the world’s number one killer – cardiovascular disease. It stops the protein, named ALDH2, from working. Cases quadrupled among carriers who regularly drank, New Scientist reported.
The discovery is based on an analysis of hundreds of thousands of biobank members in Britain and Japan and offers hope of a screening programme.
The enzyme fuels inflammation and harmful chemicals called free radicals, which can also trigger diabetes and cancer.
Lead author Dr Joseph Wu, of Stanford University in the United States, said the take-home message is clear.
He said: “If you’re missing this enzyme, try not to drink.
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An efficient ALDH2 destroys toxic chemicals from alcohol and mops up free radicals that damage DNA.
Ina group of volunteers, the US team also found in people with the standard gene, the ability of blood vessels to dilate increased after drinking.
But in those with the mutated version, dilation falls. This may seem odd given people with alcohol intolerance flush when they drink.
But the flushing is caused by the release of immune system chemicals called histamines, explained Dr Wu.
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In lab experiments on endothelial cells which line blood vessels, those with the mutated form of ALDH2 had more inflammation and free radicals.
They were also less able to generate nitric oxide, which helps relax blood vessels.
All these effects were exacerbated by exposing the human derived cells to alcohol.
Allergy UK states: “At present, avoidance is the only real way of controlling symptoms arising from allergy or intolerance to alcoholic drinks.
“If you suspect you are reacting, make a note of the type of drink (and anything else consumed at the same time) and whether or not you took exercise.
“If all alcoholic drinks affect you, it is probably an exaggerated response to the alcohol itself or an exacerbating effect on your underlying condition.
“If not, try to narrow the field down to specific drinks or drink/food combinations, so that you can avoid the culprits.
“Some medication requires avoidance of alcohol for the time that you are taking that medicine. Always check with your GP or pharmacist.”