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Med Hypotheses. 2002 Aug;59(2):204-7.

Why can't Chinese Han drink alcohol? Hepatitis B virus infection and the evolution of acetaldehyde dehydrogenase deficiency.

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Institute of Health Policy and Management, College of Public Health, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan.


An aldehyde-dehydrogenase (ALDH2) deficiency is a biological curb on excess alcohol-drinking. This enzyme deficiency is very common amongst Oriental people while it is relatively rare for most other populations. We observe that there is good geographical correlation between the prevalence of the mutant ALDH2*2 alleles and hepatitis B virus (HBV) infections. Populations that demonstrate a high ALDH2*2 prevalence are all located in HBV-endemic areas. Further, studies have shown that HBV and alcohol drinking exhibit a synergistic effect upon liver cirrhosis and cancer. A shorter life span for those with HBV infection and heavy alcohol consumption may result in a selection of the ALDH2*2 gene. We postulate that there may be patterns of evolutionary adaptation for ALDH2 deficiency in certain HBV-endemic areas and that these adaptations can produce differences in human alcohol-drinking capability.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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