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Addiction Recovery

By Braun, Stephen

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For reasons that remain unclear, alcohol dehydrogenase is less efficient in female stomachs than it is in male stomachs. In a recent study of this phenomenon, the enzyme activity of men was 70 to 80 percent greater than that of women (Frezza et al. 1990). This may account for the fact that, in general, women become intoxicated sooner in response to the same dose of alcohol than men do. It is also one of the reasons that the definition of “moderate drinking” is defined differently for men and women: two standard drinks a day for men as opposed to only a single standard drink a day for women (Gordis et al.

As just mentioned, in most people, this toxic acetaldehyde is rapidly converted into harmless acetic acid by an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase. But because of a subtle change in the structure of aldehyde dehydrogenase, this second detox step is blocked in some people. Roughly half of all Asians produce an inactive form of aldehyde dehydrogenase (Chen and Yeh 1989). The mutation in the gene used to make the enzyme is astoundingly minor, given that aldehyde dehydrogenase is constructed from a string of 374 individual amino acids.

Yeast cells struggling to survive under suffocating conditions quickly excrete the ethanol fragments because they are basically poisonous. Ethanol interferes with many of the reactions vital to the life of a cell. As a result, yeasts excrete ethanol, which slowly builds up in the surrounding liquid—exactly where the brewer or vintner wants it. Given an adequate amount of glucose, the ethanol content of a fermenting liquid rises until it reaches about 12 percent. At this point, it starts to back up inside the yeast cells because it can no longer diffuse across the cell wall.

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