Apr 4, 2024 - Research

Genetic Variants Protective Against Alcoholism May Impact Other Health Outcomes

In one of the largest studies of its kind, a team of researchers led by scientists at UC San Diego found that genetic variants known to be protective against alcohol use disorder and excessive drinking were also associated with numerous health outcomes, many having nothing to do with drinking. 

Published in Lancet eBioMedicine, the study included data from more than three million 23andMe customers from diverse populations who’d consented to participate in research. 

Metabolizing Alcohol

The work builds on the ongoing research by the team at UCSD, which has previously looked at genetic variants associated with alcohol dependence and alcohol use disorder, as well as associated psychiatric traits. 

That work has already contributed to a better understanding of the genetic underpinning of alcohol use and addiction and offers important insights into the heritability of alcoholism. 

Those studies identified the importance of genes involved in alcohol metabolism, ADH1B and ADH1C. Some variants in those genes control the speed rate at which a person metabolizes ethanol, the intoxicating chemical in alcoholic drinks.

“And that causes many negative effects,” said Sandra Sanchez-Roige, an associate professor at UCSD School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and a lead author on the research.

These individuals may almost immediately feel nausea or a headache, for instance.

“These variants are primarily associated with how much someone may consume alcohol,” Sanchez-Roige said. “And they also tend to prevent alcohol use disorder because these variants are primarily associated with the quantity of alcohol someone may drink.”

Surprising Associations

In this study, the researchers found that the variants in those genes that protect against heavy drinking also protect against a wide range of health outcomes. Some of those include metabolic diseases, such as obesity and high cholesterol, cardiovascular conditions, and some sleep and psychiatric disorders.

However, and maybe counterintuitively, they were also associated with an increased risk of unexpected health conditions, such as allergies, eye health, and migraines. While some of these associations may not be causal, they offer new avenues for researchers to investigate. 

Read the full study here.

Related Stories

Stay in the know.

Receive the latest from your DNA community.