What makes some people want to indulge in a number of alcoholic beverages each night while other people don't drink at all or only have one or two a week? It may be genetics, a new study says. And with this understanding of the genes that influence alcohol consumption, doctors may soon be able to develop medications that make alcohol less appealing.
The gene is called beta-Klotho, according to the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Helping people control their desire to drink could go a long way toward saving lives around the world. As the study notes, "excessive alcohol consumption is a major public health problem worldwide, causing an estimated 3.3 million deaths in 2012."
Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found mice that did not have the beta-Klotho gene chose to drink more alcohol than the mice that had the gene. They found a similar connection when they examined the health records of 105,000 light and heavy social drinkers of European descent. Participants in the study submitted samples for genetic screening and completed questionnaires about their drinking habits.
Researchers found that the participants who reported being the lightest drinkers also had the same beta-Klotho variation. It's possible then that the beta-Klotho gene might act as a brake when it comes to alcohol consumption.
"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, a lead author for the study.
What's more, researchers found that the beta-Klotho gene worked together with a hormone called FGF21. Previous studies have found this hormone, produced in the liver where alcohol is processed, may help to reduce the body's cravings for sugar. Researchers think that the beta-Klotho/FGF21 combination may be the mechanism that curbs a person's desire to drink.
The study could be a major breakthrough in the development of medications to treat alcohol addiction. At present, medications can make a person feel sick when they start to drink, but this would allow doctors to create medicine that actually reduced the desire to drink in the first place.