More on alcohol and genetics

As a follow-up to George Will’s column on selection for genetic adaptation to alcohol, here’s a report on a new study:

As many as one in four Britons have a much-reduced risk of developing alcohol-related cancer thanks to their genetic make-up, scientists have discovered. Researchers have identified two genes that quickly flush alcohol out of the system, thus reducing its carcinogenic effect. People carrying one or both of the genes may have only half the chance of developing mouth, throat and oesophageal cancers that are strongly associated with drinking.


Health experts welcomed the findings, but warned that they should not be interpreted as a green light to drink heavily. ‘This shouldn’t have any direct effect on people’s drinking behaviour. Those people with one or both of these rare gene variants are lucky in that they are at lesser risk of developing these cancers. Having up to half the risk is significant,’ said Wiseman. ‘But they still face some risk. So the advice to them wouldn’t be, “Go away and drink”. It would be, “For cancer prevention, avoid alcohol entirely if you can and, if you do drink, limit it to one drink a day for a woman and two drinks a day for a man”.’

Given that moderate alcohol consumption is also linked to reduced risk of heart disease (and high levels of fun), avoiding alcohol entirely doesn’t sound like good advice.


2 thoughts on “More on alcohol and genetics”

  1. Um…That sounds weird. I wouldn’t consider something found in 1/4 (or 1/5, etc.) of the population rare.

    Of course, having your risk of developing certain types of cancer go from 1% to .5% doesn’t make a huge difference on an individual level.

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