Research into high energy levels and alcoholism

Research into why people drink excessively, become alcoholics, or simply heavy drinkers with an alcohol problem (if there is such a thing) is a hugely complex area because of the diverse nature of people, alcohol and the effects of alcohol on people.

This piece of research done at Yale, and published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, is potentially very significant because it identifies one of the factors that most alcoholics in recovery would confirm – that alcohol can induce a sense of energy to the brain. In the book Alcoholics Anonymous, a doctor writes something to the effect that alcoholics drink because they like the sensation that alcohol effects within them.

It is certainly true that alcohol can produce a different effect internally on alcoholics that it does not affect on people who are not alcoholics. Understanding what that effect is and how it contributes to the illness of alcoholism is hugely important. This piece of research could make a significant contribution to that evolving debate.

The research is titled

Increased brain uptake and oxidation of acetate in heavy drinkers


‘When a person consumes ethanol, the body quickly begins to convert it to acetic acid, which circulates in the blood and can serve as a source of energy for the brain and other organs. This study used  13C magnetic resonance spectroscopy to test whether chronic heavy drinking is associated with greater brain uptake and oxidation of acetic acid, providing a potential metabolic reward or adenosinergic effect as a consequence of drinking.

Seven heavy drinkers, who regularly consumed at least 8 drinks per week and at least 4 drinks per day at least once per week, and 7 light drinkers, who consumed fewer than 2 drinks per week were recruited. The subjects were administered [2-13C]acetate for 2 hours and scanned throughout that time with magnetic resonance spectroscopy of the brain to observe natural  13C abundance of N-acetylaspartate (NAA) and the appearance of13C-labeled glutamate, glutamine, and acetate.

Heavy drinkers had approximately 2-fold more brain acetate relative to blood and twice as much labeled glutamate and glutamine. The results show that acetate transport and oxidation are faster in heavy drinkers compared with that in light drinkers. Our finding suggests that a new therapeutic approach to supply acetate during alcohol detoxification may be beneficial.’

J Clin Invest. doi:10.1172/JCI65153.

Published March 8, 2013

Full article on The Journal of Clinical Investigation website, click here

For homepage of Graeme mason, lead rsearcher , click here

For the main Yale website, click here