Genetic variant that inhibits alcohol metabolism linked to increased heart disease risk

Photo shows face of woman with reddened face.

A genetic variant that inhibits alcohol metabolism and can leave some people with a reddened complexion is linked to blood vessel damage and an increased risk of heart disease, researchers are reporting. 

Past studies have shown that this phenomenon, called alcohol flush reaction, is due to a genetic variant that prevents the body from properly metabolize acetaldehyde, a byproduct of alcohol. The variant occurs in an estimated 540 million people worldwide. The resulting ‘glow’ after drinking in those with the gene appears more common in people of Asian descent.   

In lab studies, the researchers found that the genetic variant can damage the cells that line the inside of blood vessels by causing oxidative stress, inflammation, and a decrease in production of blood-vessel-relaxing nitric oxide. This cumulative damage is associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease, they said. On the other hand: The researchers also identified a common antidiabetic drug that may protect against damage to the endothelial cells in those with the genetic variant who consume alcohol. 

The study, funded in part by NHLBI, appeared in Science Translational Medicine