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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2008 Sep;32(9):1607-14. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2008.00739.x. Epub 2008 Jul 8.

Salivary acetaldehyde concentration according to alcoholic beverage consumed and aldehyde dehydrogenase-2 genotype.

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  • 1National Hospital Organization Kurihama Alcoholism Center, Yokosuka, Kanagawa, Japan.



Acetaldehyde is suspected of playing a critical role in cancer development in the upper aerodigestive tract (UADT). The high salivary acetaldehyde levels after alcohol drinking are partly due to acetaldehyde production by oral bacteria. Some alcoholic beverages, especially Calvados and shochu, contain very high levels of acetaldehyde. Inactive heterozygous aldehyde dehydrogenase-2 (ALDH2) increases the risk of UADT cancer in drinkers.


In a randomized cross-over design study, 19 healthy Japanese volunteers ingested 0.6 g ethanol/kg body weight in the form of 13% ethanol Calvados, 13% ethanol shochu, 13% ethanol red wine, and 5% ethanol beer under the fasting conditions at 3-week intervals. We monitored blood and salivary acetaldehyde concentrations immediately after drinking, and 30, 60, 90, 120, and 180 minutes after completion of drinking.


The acetaldehyde concentration of each beverage was: Calvados 0.60 mM (1.86 mM in 40% undiluted solution), shochu 0.60 mM (1.16 mM in 25% undiluted solution), red wine 0.25 mM, and beer 0.14 mM. The salivary acetaldehyde concentration immediately after drinking wine was significantly lower than the other beverages, and it was significantly lower immediately after drinking beer than Calvados. The acetaldehyde concentrations 30 to 180 minutes after drinking were unrelated to the beverage type. Throughout the observation period the salivary acetaldehyde concentrations were much higher than the blood acetaldehyde concentrations in all 12 active ALDH2 homozygotes (24 to 53 microM in saliva vs. 2 to 5 microM in blood) and in all 7 inactive ALDH2 heterozygotes (37 to 76 microM in saliva vs. 12 to 25 microM in blood), and they were 13 to 25 microM higher in the ALDH2 heterozygotes than in the ALDH2 homozygotes after adjusting for age, body weight, sex, smoking and drinking habits, and time since the last toothbrushing. The values after subtracting the blood acetaldehyde concentration from the salivary acetaldehyde concentration were also higher in the ALDH2 heterozygotes than in the ALDH2 homozygotes.


There are differences in exposure of the UADT to high salivary acetaldehyde concentrations according to the type of alcoholic beverage and ALDH2 genotype, and the differences partly explain the differences in the cancer susceptibility of the UADT according to alcoholic beverage and ALDH2 genotype.

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