Discovery 7 of 10

Is it true that Poles can drink more alcohol?

It rather does not result from any alcohol super-genes. There is a common opinion in society that Poles have a high concentration of alcohol dehydrogenase, which is one of the enzymes crucial for the metabolism of alcohol in the body, and therefore they can drink more without feeling any severe effects. However, all indications are that the level of dehydrogenase is an individual feature, not a population one.

It is also worth remembering that in the process of alcohol metabolism, acetaldehyde is formed, slightly more toxic to our body than ethanol itself. It is this compound that is responsible for the burdensome effects of a hangover. People from the so-called "Strong head" and higher levels of dehydrogenase tend to have much more severe side effects from binge drinking, not only in the form of a massive hangover, but also a higher likelihood of developing cirrhosis and a greater tendency to alcoholism.

The Thousand PolishGenomes project analyzed several dozen genetic variants known to have some connection with alcohol metabolism (e.g. they encode enzymes involved in the breakdown of alcohol). The results obtained for the Polish population were compared with those available for other populations of the world.

The charts below present the results of the study: they illustrate the correlation of the frequency of variants between the Polish population and other analyzed populations (data from The 1000 Genomes Project). Additionally, in the second graph, the green box indicates variants occurring more frequently among Poles compared to other populations, and the red box indicates variants occurring less frequently in the Polish population.

The results clearly show that Poles do not differ in terms of genetic determinants of alcohol metabolism from other inhabitants of Europe. On the other hand, we also have evidence that the Polish population copes with alcohol metabolism much better than Asians, who much more often have a genetic variant that reduces the effectiveness of aldehyde dehydrogenase. However, alcohol dehydrogenase is not enough - there are a whole host of other genes that can modify the effects of another gene. It is not that easy!

The Thousand PolishGenomes Project - a national database of Polish variant allele frequencies" is a unique scientific project, the aim of which was to create the first database of genetic variants of Poles and Polish women. The presented results come from this project.

Find out more about the alcohol metabolism:

P.S. Of course, there exists data that is less extensive than WGS analyzes from other populations, but with a much larger sample size, for example in 23andMe or FTDNA collections. In this project, however, we focused only on data from genome-wide projects. Remember that the The Thousand PolishGenomes project is open to more discoveries by other research groups in the upcoming groups, and the presented results are only the tip of the iceberg.