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Sunday, 15 April, 2001, 23:03 GMT 00:03 UK
Why alcohol affects women more
Woman drinking
Alcohol may have more effects on women's organs
The way the stomach breaks down alcohol could explain why drinking appears to have a more pronounced effect on women.

The toxic effects of alcohol have more impact on women's internal organs, including the liver, heart and brain.

Women are more vulnerable to developing alcohol-related diseases.

Women simply need to be more cautious than males in terms of the amount of drinking that they do

Professor Steven Schenker, University of Texas
For instance, research has shown that the minimal amount of alcohol necessary to produce cirrhosis in the liver in women is two to three times less than in men.

This is due to the fact that when men and women drink the same amount of alcohol, women develop higher blood alcohol levels.

One reason for this is that women have smaller bodies than men.

They also tend to have more fatty tissue. Alcohol cannot be dispersed in fat, and so it is less easily diluted by women than men.

Stomach role

However, scientists have also found that the way the stomach breaks down alcohol before it enters the bloodstream may be a major factor.

Enzymes in the stomach act to break down a proportion of the alcohol taken in by a person.

This system is designed to prevent an excessive rise in blood alcohol levels.

However, these enzymes are less active in women than in men. This means that a greater proportion of alcohol is likely to end up in their bloodstream.

Alcoholism also depresses the activity of the enzymes.

This means that alcoholic woman are unable to break down any alcohol in their stomach.

As a consequence, the level of alcohol in their blood is the same after a drink as it would be if they had been injected intravenously.

The research was carried out by a team from the Alcohol Research and Treatment Center at the Bronx VA Medical Center in New York.

They found that while women responded to beer in the same way as men, they were less able to break down wine or spirits in the stomach.

Professor Steven Schenker, of the University of Texas, said: "Women simply need to be more cautious than males in terms of the amount of drinking that they do."

Andrew Varley, of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, said: "Traditionally more men tend to be at the extreme end of alcohol addiction, but this reflects drinking patterns, not natural susceptibility.

"Now more women, especially young women, are drinking much more they could be at risk."

The research is published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

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