Alcohol Detoxification

Ever wonder what happens after you drink your glass of wine 🍷 or other alcoholic beverage? Or why you get worse hangovers than your friends, even though you drank the same amount ? Well, if you're curious, understanding your genetics could help to explain why...

After alcohol is consumed, it is absorbed mainly from the small intestine into the bloodstream and then to the liver, where it is exposed to enzymes and metabolised.

Alcohol is detoxified in two steps.

The first step (Phase 1) is the conversion of ethanol (alcohol) by ADH genes to acetaldehyde - which is much more toxic than ethanol. If your alcohol intake is high, and your ADH genes capacity is exceeded, the CYP2E1 gene takes over to metabolise ethanol to acetaldehyde. However, CYP2E1 activity is associated with more reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, and protein and DNA damage.

In the second step (Phase 2), acetaldehyde is metabolised by ALDH to the inert metabolite - acetic acid - which may be converted to acetyl-CoA and enter the Krebs cycle.

Essentially, we don't want Phase 1 to be too fast (and create excess acetaldehyde), but we do want Phase 2 to work efficiently and as fast as possible (to effectively remove acetaldehyde)!

Alcohol Detoxification Pathway with genes and personalised results

Indeed, faster metabolism of ethanol to acetaldehyde and/ or slower metabolism of acetaldehyde to acetic acid can significantly raise acetaldehyde levels which, in turn, can stimulate histamine release. Acetaldehyde is also found in indoor air, tobacco smoke, and as a product of Candida overgrowth.

Acetaldehyde toxicity can cause unpleasant symptoms such as facial flushing, urticaria, dermatitis, rhinitis and asthma-like reactions (bronchoconstriction), nausea, tachycardia, headaches, more severe hangovers, and protein and DNA damage.

Genetic polymorphisms on the ADH, ALDH and CYP2E1 genes can significantly impact your capacity to detoxify alcohol, resulting more or less extreme symptoms.

For example, some SNPs on ADH1B (Alcohol Dehydrogenase 1B Beta Polypeptide) can lead to significantly increased enzyme activity and higher rate of conversion of ethanol to acetaldehyde, which can worsen toxicity symptoms (but may be protective against alcoholism).

There are two main SNPs on the ADH1B gene. One SNP is common in Asian populations, but much less prevalent in European and African populations, and can result in up to 100 times faster metabolism of ethanol to acetaldehyde! The other SNP is much rarer, with a frequency of less than 1% in all populations. These SNPs can be supported by replenishing cofactors NAD+ (vitamin B3) and zinc, which may be depleted by the detoxification process.

Additionally, there are two main SNPs that impact another member of the alcohol dehydrogenase family - the ADH1C gene (Alcohol Dehydrogenase 1C Gamma Polypeptide). The wild allele, is the most detrimental increasing the rate of alcohol conversion to acetaldehyde by up to 70%. Consequently, it is shown in red in our pathway diagram. It is also the most common genotype in Asian populations.

Along with ADH1B and ADH1C, CYP2E1 is one of the most important enzymes for alcohol metabolism - accountable for up to 10% of ethanol oxidation in the liver. In the absence of ADH cofactors (i.e. due to chronic drinking), oxidation of ethanol to aldehyde by CYP2E1 produces more ROS. Variants on the CYP2E1 gene are associated with up-regulated enzyme activity, which may increase the risk of oxidative damage. Isothiocyanates, found in foods such as radish, Brussels sprouts, watercress, mustard and wasabi, have been found to help reduce CYP2E1 activity.

Alcohol Detoxification Gene Summary

Finally, in the second phase, polymorphisms on ALDH2 (Aldehyde Dehydrogenase 2 Family (mitochondrial)) can result in an inactive ALDH enzyme and a high risk of acetaldehyde toxicity after consumption of alcohol or smoking. Side effects (again - facial flushing, urticaria, dermatitis, rhinitis, asthma like reactions, and more severe hangovers linked to histamine release) may deter carriers from drinking, reducing their risk of alcoholism and alcohol-related diseases.

However those with ALDH2 SNPs who do drink or smoke have an increased risk of oesophageal cancer. Approximately 50% of East Asians lack the mitochondrial form of ALDH2, which could partly explain a higher frequency of acute alcohol intoxication among Asians. This pathway can be supported by limiting alcohol consumption and increasing cofactors - vitamins B2 and B3, magnesium, molybdenum and zinc.

Lifecode Gx Reports

Our Detoxification Report shows how your genes impact alcohol detoxification. If you'd like to know why you experience more side effects from drinking than your friends, a nutrigenomics test could be the key. As your genetic code is fixed and doesn't change with time, you only have to test once in your life. What changes is your environment and lifestyle, so knowing your genetics is empowering and can help you 'prepare' yourself for any situation. Drinking alcohol may seem non-negotiable sometimes, especially during the holiday season, so knowing your genetic weaknesses in your alcohol detoxification pathway can help you to make better choices.

The Detoxification Report not only looks at genes for alcohol detoxification, but also at many other genes involved in other areas of metabolism - such as mould, pesticides, NSAIDs, paracetamol, medications, environmental pollutants, smoke, and other toxins.

Our tests are available from registered health professionals who are experienced in using nutrigenomics testing.

Any questions, please contact us at

Detoxification Summary from a sample report
Did this answer your question? Thanks for the feedback There was a problem submitting your feedback. Please try again later.

Still need help? Contact Us Contact Us