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The Science Behind Alcohol Metabolism

Ever wonder why some of your friends can ‘handle’ alcohol while others are tripping over their shoelaces after a single whiff? The truth is alcohol sensitivities range widely from person to person based on several variables. Most notably their unique genetic makeup. 

Today we’re discussing these variables in detail as well as offering a few routes to take to properly determine how your body metabolizes alcohol. So stumble, er, read on!

Let’s Uncork Some Factors 

There’s more than one way for alcohol to disagree with someone—they’re not all caused by the same factors. Being a “lightweight” or “heavyweight” drinker has nothing to do with your personality. Rather, alcohol tolerance depends on a series of factors, often determined by your genetics. 

Some people have more or less sensitivity to alcohol because of their body type. This is one of the most intuitive and understandable factors. Larger people tend to be able to process more alcohol. As well, larger people often tend to be able to eat more at social functions, and certain foods have been shown to correlate with slowing down alcohol absorption. Particularly high-protein foods such as chicken and eggs.

Also at play is simple drinking patterns. People who drink alcohol more regularly tend to be able to “handle” it better. So if you put the aforementioned points together, it’s no wonder your six-foot-six, beer-enthusiast friend tends to handle his brewski well. 

Then there is the term “alcohol allergy” which people often use to label their negative reactions to alcohol: headaches, flushed face, etc. Actual alcohol allergies are quite rare. More often than not, someone is allergic to one of the various ingredients that are common in many alcoholic beverages, such as wheat, barley, rye, hops, yeast, or even grapes. 

Finally, there is alcohol intolerance, a common genetic condition. This intolerance can make you more susceptible to the effects of alcohol, and lead to quicker intoxication. It also has a few telltale physical signs, such as a flushed face or stuffy nose. 

To avoid getting too scientific, we’ll provide the simplest breakdown. The enzymes needed to break down alcohol in the body are known as alcohol dehydrogenase and acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. However, people can be genetically predisposed to produce fewer of these enzymes, which leads to alcohol intolerance, and susceptibility to faster intoxication. So it very well could be that your alcohol sensitivity is purely from your genes. 

We should also mention there are other genetic reasons for low or high alcohol tolerance that are less understood. While the physical breakdown of alcohol through enzymes is known to lead to alcohol sensitivity, there are also thoughts that in some cases it very much could be “all in your head.” Or rather, it could have to do with your neurotransmitters, the method through which your brain and body communicate. In short, some people’s brains seem to pick up on the slightest bit of alcohol and overreact, while other people’s brains don’t seem to get the message even after numerous drinks. 

Do I Have An Alcohol Intolerance?

You may have been reading parts of the above and thinking that it sounded a lot like your own reactions to alcohol. To find out if you have true alcohol intolerance, you should speak with your doctor about an alcohol intolerance test. Actual allergies are correlated with your immune system specifically, not your genes.

While our nutritional DNA analysis can’t identify allergies, it can shed light on alcohol sensitivity. Not to mention other common sensitivities such as caffeine and gluten. To find out if you might be sensitive to alcohol, order our at-home nutritional DNA kit today.


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