‘Drinking Gene’ Could Determine Why Some People Binge


There could be a reason why some people are binge drinkers, while others are fine with drinking in moderation: A special gene separates the two types, according to a new study.

The study, published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences journal, shows that the gene beta-Klotho helps people to regulate their drinking habit and not overindulge in alcohol consumption.

Courtesy: Flickr
Courtesy: Flickr

Data was culled from nearly four dozen other studies that included 105,000 light and heavy social drinkers of European descent. They all provided DNA samples and answered questions about their drinking habits.

The study participants were classified into two groups — heavy drinkers (defined as having more than 21 drinks per week for men and 14 drinks per week for women) and light drinkers (14 drinks or less for men and seven or less for women).

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After the heavy drinkers’ genetic information was compared to the genes of the light drinkers, researchers found a significant link — 40 percent of the people in the study who carried a less frequent variant of beta-Klotho and a decreased desire to drink alcohol.

Alcoholics, however, were not a part of the study.

There was a clear variation in this one gene in the people that liked to drink more versus less,” said Dr. David Mangelsdorf of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, who worked on the study.

How the Beta-Klotho Gene Curbs Urge to Drink

Beta-Klotho works in the brain and spinal cord by forming a receptor complex for a hormone produced in the liver called FGF21. Once that hormone is transformed to the brain, it suppresses the desire for alcohol.

“This is a hormone with some remarkable pharmacologic effects,” Dr. Mangelsdorf said. “The current study suggests that the FGF21-beta-Klotho pathway regulates alcohol consumption in humans and seems to point to a mechanism that we might be able to influence in order to reduce alcohol intake.”

When experimentation was done on rodents, researchers found that mice that were genetically manipulated not to produce beta-Klotho craved water laced with alcohol, even when they were given the FGF21 hormone. When monkeys were given only the FGF21 hormone, they craved less sweet drinks. So, it appears that the two genes beta-Klotho and FGF21 must work together to control the consumption of alcohol.

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The team of researchers wrote, ”Our results suggest that this pathway could be targeted pharmacologically for reducing the desire for alcohol.”

The discovery of this anti-binge drinking gene duo could one day lead to the development of drugs that can help control alcohol consumption in people with drinking problems.

Out of the 140 million Americans who drink alcohol, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says 23 percent can be classified as binge drinkers — consuming four to five drinks in a row. Six percent are heavy drinkers who exhibit this same drinking pattern five days or more in a month.

“If we are able to identify people with heavy, unhealthy or alcohol use disorders who have this genetic variant, we can specially target this complex,” said Dr. Sidarth Wakhlu, a psychiatrist who heads the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center’s addiction division.