When we humans consume alcohol, like most other drugs, it goes through certain metabolic processes. Interestingly, our liver produces an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase, which converts alcohol to acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde, is further degraded by another enzyme acetaldehyde dehydrogenase.
So let us see how is this acetaldehyde formation in body is important in various way:
First of all the chain of reactions we talked above is responsible for severe hypoglycemia (i.e. very low blood glucose level) in alcohol consumers, specially if someone is taking alcohol only with out any other food and in large quantities.
Let me explain why such happens: Generally, our body has a way of forming glucose in liver called gluconeogenesis (gluco is glucose, neo is new, genesis is formation- which makes ‘new glucose formation’). In this process the body utilises non-carbohydrate sources to make glucose (normally glucose is obtained from carbohydrate products). What are these non carbohydrate sources? They can be proteins (certain amino acids), fats (odd chain fatty acids), lactate, pyruvate etc.
During the alcohol metabolism process the ratio of NADH/NAD increase in liver which divert the products the products required for gluconeogenesis to other products, from which new glucose can’t be formed.
Henceforth, non- carbohydrate sources get converted to some other products which can’t be used for glucose formation. So body’s ability to form glucose can shrink significantly, and if the person is not taking glucose from other sources like food or drink can cause severe hypoglycemia. Severe hypoglycemia can cause loss of consciousness and even death.
Next major implication of acetaldehyde, is for making a drug known as disulfiram, used to stop drinking habit of a person dependent on alcohol. In certain country’s people mix this drug in the alcohol addicted person’s food unknowingly, however not sure if that is ethical practice to give a drug without someone’s consent. This drug inhibits the breakdown of acetaldehyde, by blocking the enzyme acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. Therefore, acetaldehyde accumulation occurs in body, which causes a lot of distress when the person consumes alcohol as its metabolite acetaldehyde accumulates. Acetaldehyde accumulation causes uneasiness and distress in the person, and it’s expected to decrease the interest of the person for alcohol.However, Disulfiram alone might not be effective enough without proper counseling.
Interestingly, there are few other drugs, when taken by a person who is actively drinking alcohol can also cause uneasiness like disulfiram. Examples of such are certain antibiotics, certain antidiabetic medications etc.
Finally coming to a latest discovery about acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde makes our skin sensitive to ultraviolet light and poses more risk of developing skin cancers like melanoma, when exposed to sunlight. So that again makes alcohol a risk factor for skin cancer.
Hope you enjoyed this post about the alcohol metabolism and its metabolites.PS: Readers are advised to cross check information from other sources too. For all your health concerns please be guided by your healthcare provider,and not by this blog. Reference:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-25930184