Alcohol-Busting Enzyme Also Protects the Heart During Heart Attacks

By Eliza Strickland | September 12, 2008 1:04 pm

heartAn enzyme that helps the human body break down alcohol has another beneficial function, researchers say: In rat studies the enzyme reduces the amount of damage during a heart attack. Researchers also developed an experimental drug that can increase levels of the enzyme in rats, and say these findings could lead to a drug that could prevent damage to the heart from heart attack[s] or during coronary bypass surgery and other events in which the heart does not receive enough blood [Reuters].

During a heart attack, a clot blocks blood flow to the heart. The lack of oxygen and build up of toxins causes tissue to die. This is also a danger during coronary bypass surgery, when blood flow is redirected to allow surgeons to operate [BBC News]. Researchers believe the enzyme works by removing toxic molecules known as free radicals from the cells that are struggling to live through the episode of oxygen deprivation. Although not all cardiac damage is avoided, “any time you can save cells, you have a better chance of recovery,” says study co-author Thomas Hurley [Scientific American].

In the study, published in Science [subscription required], researchers injected healthy rats with the experimental drug that boosted the activity of the so-called ALDH2 enzyme, and then blocked the flow of blood into their hearts. The hearts of rats that received the drug suffered 60 percent less damage than the rats who received nothing, researchers found. While the results are promising, researchers caution that any human tests are a long way off.

But the finding sheds light on phenomenon that researchers have puzzled over for years: why moderate drinkers tend to have less severe heart attacks than teetotalers. Alcohol, in small amounts, preconditions the heart to resist damage, but until now, the reason for the preconditioning has been unknown [HealthDay News]. Now, researchers hypothesize that moderate drinkers have higher levels of the ALDH2 enzyme in their systems, which helps prevent damage.

Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
MORE ABOUT: alcohol, heart disease
  • Sheila Joyce Gibbs

    While I understand your article, apparently, you need to be reminded, that Alcohol consumption is the primary cause of health damage & various deaths in our world. Regular drinking, that’s without being ever drunk or on these stupid binge’s, can still easily hit anyone, with serious, severe health afflictions, that do not give the poor sod any warning at all !!!
    I think that you perhaps are egging people ON, to drink, which in fact, they DON’T need to be encouraged AT ALL !!!!!!!
    Alcohol is the prime Scourge of our society right now. Biggest problem, being that it’s LEGAL, and also the fact that a huge percentage of teenagers have witnessed Mom & Dad drinking, in what appears to THEM, to be moderation.
    We’re just beginning to see OUR downfall in this. Wait until we’re old farts in nursing homes, needing to be spoon fed. Then our teen’s will be in charge of running our Country’s?
    Heaven Help Us ALL !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Tony Pelliccio

    I disagree with most of Sheila Joyce Gibbs’ post.

    I drink maybe 3 or 4 times a month. Mostly wine, sometimes beer and usually with meals. I don’t drink and drive either. I am a responsible adult and realize there are consequences to actions.

    My viewpoint is that we need to change our relationship to alcoholic beverages. Teach kids that it’s ok to drink occasionally at meals and at celebrations, but that they must use their discretion and not drive drunk, and never be afraid to call mom or dad for a ride home. The same should be true among all friends, you should always be able to call a friend to give you a ride home if you’re too incapacitated to drive.

    And SJG brings up the old canard we’ve all heard over and over about “those damned kids!”

    BTW, I support the full decriminalization and legalization of marijuana.

  • modernrocko

    I’m 25 and I drink pretty frequently, I would say three to four times a week, in what’s considered “binge” amounts (typically I have six or seven glasses of beer or wine per night, but I won’t lie–on some nights it can be much, much, much more). I’m on my way to cirrhosis, I’m sure. Oh well. That’s what happens when everyone in your life is a drinker and you grow up around drinkers, and the regular weekend occurrences involve events like “going to the bar” and “throwing a kegger.” So raise your glass and drink up, because alcoholism is not just a fault in your genes or a poor choice, it’s also promoted by the good ol’ American Dream. That’s not to say, of course, that there aren’t other choices (I make my own bed and take responsibility for my own actions, as should everyone), but it’s an easy habit to get into and let’s be honest, it does give you a brief reprieve from the depression of debt, rising costs, and lack of job security amongst other more personal situations in life.

    I also support the decriminalization of marijuana, Tony, but unfortunately it isn’t going to happen. For whatever reason, the government refuses to admit that marijuana is a much less violent drug than alcohol.

    But in regards to the topic at hand, I guess it’s true that we all have the ability to choose how we die. As shown here, we might be able to lessen our chances of death by heart attack, but we’ll only be increasing our chances of liver disease. We’ve all got to go somehow. What’s your preferred method?

  • Andrew Martian

    I think the main focus of this study is being misinterpreted. This isn’t about whether alcohol is good or bad, that’s for the individual to decide, but more less about the possibilities that some of the findings hold. What I find the most interesting is that this enzyme, which isn’t very well understood, is thought to remove free oxygen radicals from cells. This idea could be implemented in a wide range of future studies, but one that I think of off hand is diabetic neuropathy. When glucose is not metabolized in the right way, like in diabetics, they can produce oxygen radicals, so who’s to say that this couldn’t be something of great interest in other fields as well as heart related complications. As for the first post, I’m kind of offended. She talks about the beginning of our downfall with teenagers taking over to take care of their elders, well I want to remind her that probably just a few years ago the people doing some of these studies were teenagers and these findings are truly remarkable. I think a little appreciation is needed for our youth and future scientific discoveries because it might be your butt that is saved someday from someone who is a drinker.

  • diabetic neuropathy treatment

    An fascinating dialogue is price comment. I think that it’s best to write extra on this subject, it might not be a taboo topic but generally persons are not enough to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers


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