Press Releases

2001 Releases

Study Shows Gene Variety Provides Health Benefits for Moderate Drinkers

For immediate release: February 21, 2001

Boston, MA - Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have found that moderate alcohol consumption among people who have a specific version of a gene that metabolizes alcohol have a greater reduction in risk of heart disease and higher HDL (good cholesterol) levels. The findings appear in the February 22 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine,

The team studied the influence of a gene that codes for alcohol dehydrogenase type 3 (ADH3), which breaks down alcohol. An inherited difference in this gene yields two forms, one that works faster than the other. Among the study participants, those who consumed alcohol moderately had a lower risk of heart disease. However, among the moderate drinkers, those with the gene that breaks down alcohol more slowly, had higher levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and a greater reduction in risk for heart disease, compared to participants with the gene for the faster enzyme

Lisa Hines, lead author and graduate student in the Department of Epidemiology at HSPH said about the findings, "The study results support that it is the alcohol in alcoholic beverages that is responsible for the reduction in risk of heart disease, not other ingredients in alcoholic beverages or lifestyle factors associated with alcohol consumption."

Participants for the research were drawn from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital-based Physicians Health Study, which has followed the health of more than 22,000 male physicians since 1982. The researchers studied 396 patients who had suffered a heart attack and 770 men who had not. In addition, the researchers conducted an independent study of the influence of the ADH3 gene on HDL levels in 325 post-menopausal women from the Nurses Health Study. They observed similar findings among the women.

David Hunter, co-author and Professor of Epidemiology at HSPH said, "Deciphering the human genome sequence has demonstrated that many genes contain variants, such as those present in the ADH3 gene. This study illustrates the importance of accounting for both genetic and lifestyle variation to better understand the causes of common diseases such as heart disease."

The study, "Genetic Variation in Alcohol Dehydrogenase and the Beneficial Effect of Alcohol Consumption on Myocardial Infarction," was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman
Office of Communications
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752

Rob Hutchison
Brigham and Women's Hospital
(617) 732-5204