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Do You Have The ‘Tipsy’ Gene?

On average it takes only 1.5 glasses of wine, beer or [insert alcoholic beverage here] before I get a buzz. Once I’m ‘tipsy,’ I see no reason to continue drinking (read: would like to avoid making a fool of myself and/or waking up next to a toilet). I’ve been called a lightweight on many occasions because of this. So when I saw a BBC headline about a ‘tipsy gene’ protecting against alcoholism I had to learn more. The long and short of it: turns out my being a lightweight could be a good thing.

Researchers have discovered that 10 to 20 percent of people have a gene variant that is associated with a person’s response to alcohol. The variant is located in the CYP2E1 gene, and a specific version of it makes people more sensitive to alcohol.

“Those first few drinks leave them feeling more inebriated than the rest of the human population, who harbor a different version of the gene,” according to a release about the study.

Why is this important? Studies in the past have shown that those who have strong reactions to alcohol are less likely to become alcoholics.

“We have found a gene that protects against alcoholism, and on top of that, has a very strong effect,” said senior study author Kirk Wilhelmsen in a release. Wilhelmsen, M.D., Ph.D., is a professor of genetics at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. "But alcoholism is a very complex disease, and there are lots of complicated reasons why people drink. This may be just one of the reasons."

The findings suggest that drugs inducing the specific version of CYP2E1 could be used to give that sense of…lightweightedness, for lack of a better word, to anyone, or even help to sober a person up after one too many drinks.

Think of all the Lindsay Lohans, Snookis and David Hasslehoffs –along with the myriad court dates and wasted tax dollars-- we could potentially save. But even more important, think of how many families could coexist in more safe and sane environments.

I guess being a lightweight is not so bad after all.

More: Read the complete study

This program aired on October 21, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

Keosha Johnson Digital Editor/Producer
Keosha Johnson was formerly a digital editor and producer for WBUR.

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