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East Asians and the ALDH2*2 gene

The gene ALDH2, encodes the aldehyde dehydrogenase enzymes which serve to break down  aldehydes after alcohol consumption. However, 540 million people globally of the East Asian descent carry the ALDH2*2 gene variant which is the inactive form of the ALDH2 gene¹. This leads to the accumulation of aldehydes which can result in an increased risk of several types of cancer such as head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, and liver cancer².  These cancers have strong associations with alcohol consumption, especially for the 50% of East Asians who carry the gene¹. Facial flushing and fast heart rate during alcohol consumption are some indicators of having the ALDH2*2 variant. For East Asians, reducing alcohol intake will help lower the risk of developing cancer of the head and neck, esophagus and liver.

¹Heymann, H. M., Gardner, A. M., & Gross, E. R. (2018). Aldehyde-Induced DNA and Protein Adducts as Biomarker Tools for Alcohol Use Disorder. Trends in Molecular Medicine,24(2), 144-155. doi:10.1016/j.molmed.2017.12.003
²Chang, J. S., Hsiao, J., & Chen, C. (2017). ALDH2 polymorphism and alcohol-related cancers in Asians: A public health perspective. Journal of Biomedical Science,24(1). doi:10.1186/s12929-017-0327-y

About Shannon Luu

Santa Clara University, BS in Biology

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