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Candy is dandy, but....

Ogden Nash's advice on breaking the ice now appears to have some scientific basis, according to a recent New England Journal of Medicine article. If the article's results are correct, liquor is quicker for females than males in breaking down the body's defense mechanisms.

Some interesting experiments conducted by a joint American-Italian research team explains why females are more susceptible to the grape than males. Not only are women able to get drunk on fewer drinks than men, even when body weight is taken into consideration, but they are also prone to earlier liver damage and other effects of chronic alcohol intake than men. It now appears that the female stomach is less able to break down alcohol than that of the male, due to lower production of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase in the female stomach lining. As a result, more alcohol flows into the bloodstream.

Doctors used to think that the liver was the only organ responsible for breaking down alcohol and that the process occurred in both sexes at the same rate. Because the water content of tissues is lower in females, a given amount of alcohol would be more concentrated in female tissues while awaiting breakdown in the liver. Doctors thought this higher concentration would thus produce greater intoxication. However, when a group of Italian volunteers was given comparable amounts of alcohol intravenously, there was no significant difference between the sexes in tissue concentration, as reflected in blood alcohol levels over a five-hour period. On the other hand, when comparable doses were taken by mouth, thus passing through the stomach before entering the bloodstream and body tissues, women had higher blood alcohol levels than men. When the experiments were repeated on a separate group of known alcoholics, stomach breakdown of alcohol in alcoholic males was only half as great as in nonalcoholic men-and nonexistent in the female alcoholics. Thus, it would appear the stomach also plays a role in breaking down alcohol.

Given these findings, the researchers said, "These differences should be considered in the definition of safe levels of drinking for men and women driving motor vehicles or engaged in other activities requiring a high degree of attention or coordination."
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Title Annotation:liquor and the body's defense mechanisms
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Feb 1, 1990
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