Researchers discover genetics cause people to like alcohol

Researchers from Pennsylvania State University found that people may like the taste of alcohol thanks to their parents. These genetic factors play a role in whether people like and drink alcohol regularly. The findings were published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Excessive alcohol use is common in the U.S., the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated. Approximately 92 percent of people who drink significant amounts of alcohol reported binge drinking in the past 30 days.

Taste variations of alcohol

People vary in their taste sensations for any food or beverage, and alcohol is no exception. These perceptions of taste all come back to people’s genes. When it comes to beer, some people taste more bitterness and less sweetness.

“In general, greater bitterness relates to lower liking, and because we generally tend to avoid eating or drinking things we don’t like, lower liking for alcoholic beverages associates with lower intake,” said assistant professor of food science John Hayes in a statement. “The burn receptor gene TRPV1 has not previously been linked to differences in intake, but we reasoned that this gene might be important as alcohol causes burning sensations in addition to bitterness.”

So, when people taste alcohol they taste different levels of bitterness. This is because of which version of a bitter receptor gene the person has.

The researchers collected participants’ saliva samples to determine which receptor gene each person had. The participants were of various races and ranged from age 18 to age 45.

The influence of bitterness

Historically, evolution has proved that people are fond of sweetness and dislike bitterness. As a result, we make food and beverage choices based on these preferences. However, people vary in how much bitterness they can tolerate, which is because of genetic differences.

In many foods and beverages, bitter and sweet tastes will overpower each other. Since genetic differences influence how we perceive bitterness, it could have an effect on sweetness perception too.

“Prior work suggests greater bitterness and less sweetness each influence the liking of alcohol beverages, which influences intake,” said lead researcher Alissa Allen. “Here we show that the bitterness of sampled ethanol varies with genetic differences in bitter taste receptor genes, which suggests a likely mechanism to explain previously reported relationships between these gene variants and alcohol intake.”

The study authors concluded that the dynamic between burn and intake is complex, and personality traits can also play a role in food choices. This is the reason why some people love the burn of a jalapeno and others do not.

However, the researchers believe that most people dislike the burn from alcohol. Yet that would mean people are less likely to drink alcohol, which is not true. The study only used ethanol mixed with water, so the researchers are still unsure about how the results compare for actual alcoholic beverages. The study authors noted that something like a flavored malt beverage may reduce bitterness in a drink while a beer with hops will enhance the bitterness.

The researchers believe that once a person has an alcohol addiction, genetic factors do not play a role in alcohol intake. However, genetic factors may play a role in how fond a person becomes of alcohol, especially when he or she tries it initially.

Moving forward

Prior research from the study authors found a strong correlation between alcohol intake and bitter receptor genes. The researchers concluded that further research is needed on the topic to determine what role these genetic preferences play in alcohol use and abuse. They also believe that people can still make a choice about their alcohol consumption despite a genetic predisposition. A person could overcome his or her dislike of bitterness to consume significant amounts of alcohol, and others who do not experience bitterness may choose to avoid alcohol.

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