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Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2008 Apr;50(3):313-21. doi: 10.1016/j.yrtph.2007.12.008. Epub 2008 Jan 16.

Defining maximum levels of higher alcohols in alcoholic beverages and surrogate alcohol products.

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Chemisches und Veterinäruntersuchungsamt (CVUA) Karlsruhe, Weissenburger Strasse 3, D-76187 Karlsruhe, Germany.


Higher alcohols occur naturally in alcoholic beverages as by-products of alcoholic fermentation. Recently, concerns have been raised about the levels of higher alcohols in surrogate alcohol (i.e., illicit or home-produced alcoholic beverages) that might lead to an increased incidence of liver diseases in regions where there is a high consumption of such beverages. In contrast, higher alcohols are generally regarded as important flavour compounds, so that European legislation even demands minimum contents in certain spirits. In the current study we review the scientific literature on the toxicity of higher alcohols and estimate tolerable concentrations in alcoholic beverages. On the assumption that an adult consumes 4 x 25 ml of a drink containing 40% vol alcohol, the maximum tolerable concentrations of 1-propanol, 1-butanol, 2-butanol, isobutanol, isoamyl alcohol and 1-hexanol in such a drink would range between 228 and 3325 g/hl of pure alcohol. A reasonable preliminary guideline level would be 1000 g/hl of pure alcohol for the sum of all higher alcohols. This level is higher than the concentrations usually found in both legal alcoholic beverages and surrogate alcohols, so that we conclude that scientific data are lacking so far to consider higher alcohols as a likely cause for the adverse effects of surrogate alcohol. The limitations of our study include the inadequate toxicological data base leading to uncertainties during the extrapolation of toxicological data between the different alcohols, as well as unknown interactions between the different higher alcohols and ethanol.

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