Scientists Discover Hangover Gene

Posted on July 19, 2005

Why do some people have terrible hangovers? Why do some get really red in the face with just a little bit of alcohol? Japanese researchers have discovered the answer to this crucial issue. It's all in your genes.

Mutations in a specific gene inactivate a key enzyme and slow the elimination of acetaldehyde -- the first product of alcohol metabolism -- from the body, say Japanese researchers reporting in the July issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Their study of 326 Japanese female and male workers found that those with a mutated, inactive form of aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) -- an enzyme that plays an important role in the elimination of alcohol-induced acetaldehyde -- are more susceptible to hangovers and facial flushing when they drink. This mutated form of ALDH is called ALDH2. People with the inactive form of ALDH2 needed to drink "significantly less" than those with active ALDH2 to trigger hangover, study corresponding author Masako Yokoyama, of the Mitsukoshi Health and Welfare Foundation, said in a prepared statement.

The researcher added that men who said they had suffered more than three hangovers in the past year were more likely to report alcohol-related facial flushing and an elevated volume in their blood corpuscles, "both of which are indicators of high acetaldehyde exposure due to drinking in persons with inactive ALDH2."

No doubt the next round of research will be focused on finding a way to allow these genetically less fortunate souls to be able to drink without ever experiencing the dreaded aftereffects of a hangover. Of course, we could all just drink less -- but where's the fun in that?

More from Watchers Watch