Alcohol & Digestive Enzymes

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Drinking alcohol can have more than the desired effects in some individuals. Alcohol is readily absorbed in your gastrointestinal tract. Enzymes in the liver work to oxidize it into a substance that can be used for energy.


Alcoholic drinks are complex and contain many substances you may not be aware of. In addition to ethanol, your alcoholic beverages can contain a mixture of grapes, yeast, wood and wheat derivatives, preservatives such as sodium metabisulphite, barley and natural food chemicals including salicylates. Some wine and beer are subjected to a fining process to remove particles in the liquid. Your wine may have had particles removed using an egg-based agent. Seafood protein may be used to fine certain brands of beer.


According to the Food Reactions website, alcohol is a toxic compound that cannot be stored in your body. It must be oxidized by digestive enzymes in your liver so that it can provide some energy from the sugars it contains and eventually pass from your body. The enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase, or ALDH, is the enzyme present in your liver that changes alcohol from a toxic substance into acetic acid, also known as vinegar.

A 2007 article in "Alcohol Research and Health" by Alain Vonlaufen and colleagues describes how your pancreas also plays an important part in neutralizing alcohol. The digestive enzyme secreted by your pancreatic stellate cells, or PCS, works to metabolize alcohol. The specific enzyme in the pancreas is called alcohol dehydrogenase. It is the major oxidizing enzyme for ethanol.


You may have an alteration in your ALDH digestive enzyme gene that makes it unable to function properly. The condition is called polymorphism. If you have this genetic condition, your enzyme will be unable to oxidize the alcohol and turn it into vinegar. Avoiding alcohol completely is the best way to protect your health if you are polymorphic.

If you are Asian or of Asian descent, it is important to know that approximately 50 percent of individuals from China, Japan and Korea suffer from polymorphism of their ALDH. This problem has been referred to as the Oriental flushing syndrome and often protects against the development of alcoholism.


When you drink alcohol, it can result in the release of histamine in your body. It also prevents your body from breaking down the histamine, which results in an increased level in your circulation. Your digestive enzyme ALDH also works to reduce your histamine level. If you are deficient, you may experience allergylike symptoms including nasal congestion, flushing, unusual heart beat, abdominal pain, low blood pressure and headache immediately upon drinking alcohol.


If you drink a lot of alcohol, it can interrupt the digestion of food. Alcohol reduces the amount of digestive enzymes secreted by your pancreas. These enzymes are necessary to break down alcohol and to digest your food. A significant intake of alcohol is the No. 1 cause of chronic pancreatitis or inflammation of your pancreas, an organ essential for life.