Why Indians are alcoholics and Asians can’t drink

When Asians don't hold their liquor as well it's probably because of their genes.

When Asians don’t hold their liquor very well it’s probably because of their genes.

A bit of a controversial post for some perhaps, but we’re gonna take a look at the genetic differences between races in relation to alcohol. The idea came up when reading an article on Mayas (Indians in central America) and how they showed higher rates of alcoholism. Another good example are the native Australians, the Aboriginals. Now a friend once told me about a teacher who told him there is no such thing as different races. Well, tell that to the thousands of white runners following a few Kenyans in a marathon. Of course there are differences. And not all are as clear to see as a skin color or the shape of the eyes (not to mention other body parts). Let’s check out the racial differences where it comes to the use of alcohol.

So let’s start with the alcoholism part. How come native Americans and Aboriginals are in general more likely to get hooked on booze? It’s all because their bodies usually break down ethanol into water and acid way slower than the other races. Let’s first describe this process. When you drink alcoholic drinks the ethanol is metabolized (transformed) into something called acetaldehyde. This is being done by an enzyme in your body called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). So the more ADH your body produces, the faster the process. Apparently a lot of Native Americans miss out on this enzyme (according to analysis on chromosome 4 and 11) and that increases the risk of becoming alcoholic.

Unlike the American Indians the Chinese and Japanese produce a lot of ADH. 85% of their population produces unusual high activities of this enzyme. Where Caucasians score less than 21%, African Americans less than 10% and Native Americans as well as Asian Indians 0%. These numbers and further explanation can be found in the book Casarett & Doull’s Toxicology: The basic Science of Poison by Curtis D. Klaassen.

Now don’t jump to any conclusions that Asians are great drinkers. Because the metabolizing isn’t quite done yet. The acetaldehyde that originated after the first step still isn’t the acetic acid and water it’s supposed to be. This process is caused by another enzyme called acetaldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH 2). Now about half of the Chinese and Japanese (Koreans way less by the way) lack the normal amount of this second enzyme. The result is that in many cases the acetaldehyde builds up very fast when Asians start drinking. First of all because of the big amount of ADH and second because of the lack of ALDH 2. This is very unfortunate since acetaldehyde makes you way more sick than ethanol itself. This genetic disadvantage is the reason that a lot of Asians can’t hold their liquor. A clear sign of a high acetaldehyde-level is that the face turns extremely red.

bonus 2

Of course these are just generalizations. For sure there are plenty of small Asians that would outdrink any big guy and not every Indian is destined to become an alcoholic when he hits the booze. However this genetic differences between races should not be ignored. And of course it’s very interesting to find out why they are here. A common assumption that Native Americans lack a sufficient amount of ADH is that they weren’t exposed to alcohol until the Europeans introduced it. Just like the Aboriginals never tried it before Australia was discovered.

At least for the Indians in America this “alcohol evolution theory” seems off target. The Mayas drunk a corn drink called atole and balché, which is made out of honey. Aztecs had pulque, distracted from the agave plant and Incas also had their corn drink: chicha. All way before any European ever set foot on their continent. So this theory might work on the Native Americans in the United States or the Aboriginals, but definitely not everywhere.

There is still more research to be done about why the metabolism of certain races is different. And maybe even a solution can be found to optimize the alcohol related fun for everyone. I mean White people run the highest risk for skin cancer, while Blacks suffer most from prostate cancer and we’re looking for cures for that too right? So let’s not be racist and help the Indians and Asians too.

Micky Bumbar

Also check out why Jews in general drink very little alcohol.

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Other posts on LOTD you might like:

Story of San Simon, the Guatemalan saint who loves drinking

Why alcohol can make women clingy and men unfaithful

Why smoking and drinking go so well together

More scientific posts about alcohol

Recipes for hangover cures from all over the world

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165 thoughts on “Why Indians are alcoholics and Asians can’t drink

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  4. The differences between members of the same ‘race’ are larger than the differences between ‘races’. Adaptations to enivronment aren’t ‘races’, they’re localised adaptations. ‘Race’ is a construct with the intention of dividing humanity, it serves no positive purpose and has been comprehensively proven by science to be a complete myth.

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    • Pfff… Why would it divide us? Or better put: why would we let it divide us. People who deny that we are all different are ignorant and weak. They better accept that we are all different and that’s pretty awesome. A world with only blond hair and blue eyes would be pretty boring.
      Cheers,
      Micky

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      • We are all different. So-called “race” is a minor part of that, and most difference between humans is not “race” based. Ever heard of Pygmies and Watusis?

        The problem is that you are assigning racial stereotypes based on limited and inaccurate percentages. And to add to the problem, even the old and limited data you supply does not provide support for the stereotypes you further. Your own data would imply that more than 40% of Asians hold their alcohol better than “Caucasians”. But you forget to look at your own data. You mention two enzymes, but forget the rest of the metabolic process, where genetic and cultural norms play an important part.

        And you imply that Caucasians have “normal” levels of enzymes, even though there are less total “Caucasians” on the planet earth than there are a single group of Chinese-speakers, the Han.

        Ignorance is bliss.

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      • And thanks for telling us about the “Kenyan Race”, who run faster in marathons than the “Nigerian Race”.

        Humans have genetic differences. The most often applied factor in “race” definitions, skin color, is the result of a very small number of genetic differences that are mostly direct responses to climate differences, and has little impact upon other human traits.

        But even people who share almost 100% of the same genetic material still react differently to alcohol, as anyone who has gone drinking with twins can tell you.

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      • Miss Tamara, thanks again for your contribution. I do not base my “race theory” on drinking dear. Are you gonna deny that whites,blacks and yellows look completely different? You can get all technical, but normal people just call that different races. I really don’t know what crolled up your ass. We have no bad intentions or judgements here. Why do you feel you need to blow smoke here? Is your life that boring? I suggest you find yourself a shitload of booze and about 1042 cocks. You can write your own article on “genetic differences” on that experience.
        Cheers,
        Micky

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      • Dear Micky, based on your reply, am I to assume that all Dutch just don’t understand genetics and get abusive when it is pointed out? Or should I assume that all Dutch just can’t hold their liquor, and your neurons are fried, at least when you post?

        Which people do you call Black? Like in the British Empire, does that include all Indians from India? What about New Guinea? Sub-Saharan Africans? These three groups, all of whom have been labeled “Black”, do not share any relatively large number of genes, compared to other human populations. In fact their skin pigment genes do not even have the same origin.

        “You can get all technical, but normal people just call that different races.”

        Yes, I get “all technical”, because that is the issue. You claim genetic differences in tolerance to alcohol aligned by race, and yet you don’t understand genetics nor statistics nor race. (Which you prove once again in reducing genetics to skin color.) We have long seen pseudo-scientists trying to prove differences between the races based on genetics. We have seen the danger that that represents. Yes, Nazi Germany, Segregationist America and the Dutch-speaking Boers all too claimed to have “scientific proof” to back up their claims. Their proof doesn’t hold water and neither do the parallel assertions you make in your article.

        And in a footnote, those Chinese (nationals) who can’t hold their liquor drink much more today than the “Dutch Race”.

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      • Ah there she is… Look Tamara, I really got to hurry, since I need to buy fireworks in Belgium for tomorrow’s football match. I’ll give you aproper reply soon. Have a great weekend.
        Cheers,
        Micky

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      • You are right. I have lived and worked in many countries. It helped me to understand how to get by elegantly and with appreciation of differences by looking at the facts of life and the way things are done differently. Not pretending that we are all the same, all equal, all boringly ordinary. It is the limitless infinity of diversity that makes life so appealingly enjoyable. Rigid frigid narrowmindedness is depressing frustrating and leads to hatred.

        Liked by 1 person

    • That is because of «virtuous puritans» like you that scientists shy away from looking for answers to why Koreans and Mayans get drunk so fast and seem so dazed. I have lived in South Korea and in Mexico and I can tell how differently they get drunk. I would have liked to know the reasons why. I was not condemning them. I would have liked to know why and maybe to know what to do when my boyfriends got so drunk. It does not make me a racist pig. Admitting that there are differences does not make us fascists. Most self-righteous puritans are the inflexible ones.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ludo, the science does not support the scenario you promote. Please read what the science says. It says people of different “races” have genes in different frequencies. That, for example, 60% of one “race” has a certain gene, while 40% of another “race” has the same gene. That can only indicate a statistical tendency in one direction IF the gene does indeed have the speculated effect.

        IF you, Ludo, observed that 100% of Koreans or 100% of Mexicans reacted differently to alcohol, that is PROOF that it is not the gene that caused the difference.

        If it is not 100% of Koreans or Mexicans, then saying that Koreans or Mexicans are “different” as a whole is simply false.

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    • The feelings behind “dividing us” are irrelevant if science confirms it, and denying reality in the name of “social justice” benefits no one. The sheer idea that some should linger with potential issues because it hurts your feelings is utterly absurd and primitive! Races exist. Genders exist. Get over yourself because your virtue signaling impresses no one.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Scientists in their vast majority do not agree on the existence of distinct human races and especially not in their usefulness for scientific study. No contemporary scientist uses arbitrary terms like “black race” or “white race”. Science demands thought and precision. A population group has to be defined much more specifically for any scientist to use it.

        How many “races” do you see, s19742014?

        Is “”white” a “race”?

        Is “black” a “race”?

        What race are people from Afghanistan?

        Are Portuguese black or white? Historically, they have been referred to as both.

        Are Arabs a “race”?

        Are Jews a “race”?

        Are Hispanics “white”, as the US census sometimes claimed, and sometimes not?

        My mother’s family, on average, is taller than my father’s family. Are they different races? Is the Smith family a race of its own?

        Are people with blue eyes a special race?

        Are people with one great grandparent from Sub-Saharan Africa and 7 great grandparents from Europe Negro? As US law once stated?

        If “races” exist, please define the concept. Is it just skin colour? A gut feeling? A guess?

        Just because you may find a stereotype useful doesn’t mean it reflects any greater reality than middle schoolers talking about cool kids and nerds or jocks and brains.

        Please tell us specifically what race is and what races exist.

        Liked by 1 person

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  6. Micky,

    You are wrong. The Chinese were one of the first, if not THE first people to produce alcoholic beverages. Check out some old 8500 years old recipe beer from Chateau Jiahu. Europe didn’t know how to producte until maybe less than 1000 years ago.

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  7. Actually, Asians have way more better ability to drink alcohol. Americans drink one bottle of beer whole day. We drink 30% alcohol 1-2 bottles each person. What a conservative people, american.

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      • I absolutely agree with you Matthew. The average American is quite a bad drinker. Guess the anti-alcohol lobby is quite powerful there. No beers till you’re 21? What the hell?!
        Let’s not use them as a standard for the white race but rather the Europeans haha…
        Cheers,
        Micky

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      • And where did they live before that? Ethiopia and Kenya? So we’re all Africans. 😛

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      • The problem, Micky, is that you are confused about genetics. There are a few traits that the groups you call “races” share. But that doesn’t mean they share other traits. And there you confuse statistics with “race”. As the sources you quote show clearly, there is nothing in alcohol resistance that corresponds with the “racial” concepts. Virtually 100% of people of sub-Saharan genetic origin have dark skin. But the statistics you cite are often very far from 100%, sometimes not even approaching 50%, and they refer only to partial contributing factors to alcohol resistance. They are “tendencies” that refer sometimes to a minority of the people you are labelling. You define their proportions as “racial”. It is a false paradyne.

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      • I don’t really see any problem here. The only one who seems to have some issues here is you. It’s 8th of December, the Bulgarian students holiday, so I’m gonna get drunk now if you don’t mind.
        Cheers,
        Micky

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  9. Why did you give the Inca an apostrophe in the plural “Inca’s” but not the Maya (Mayas). Just because a noun ends in a vowel you seem to think (sometimes) that an apostrophe is required. What ever happened to education? cat: cats; dog: dogs; dahlia: dahlias; sofa: sofas; baby: babies; tomato: tomatoes.

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    • You are absolutely right. In my native language Dutch we write Inca’s. Guess it was a matter of habbit. Thanks for pointing that out.
      Cheers,
      Micky

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    • Is that supposed to be impressive? Not sure who Kim is, but 12 shots is not really that much for my standards. 🙂
      Cheers,
      Micky

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  13. I think the reason some groups developed a higher tolerance to alcohol was out of necessity. It had to do with the quality of drinking water. Many big towns in Europe back in the day did not have great sewage systems. They relied on beer and wine as essentially water. I don’t think anyone knew for certain it was actually dehydrating. But I think that perhaps many of the Chinese didn’t need fermented liquid to stay hydrated. They drank a lot of tea, and by boiling water they were able to kill off anything that would hurt them. It could be that it later became a cultural thing and maybe many didn’t need that much alcohol. Many Chinese have a hard time with milk/lactose too. FYI I am Chinese (American) and I have a hard time with both.

    Also the whole ethnicity talk is hard. Agreed, we are one race, and I suppose different ethnicities. I see the Earth as one giant gradient of humans (let’s not even get the rest of the animal kingdom involved). I think at some point, we do have to group some together to talk about some differences. Usually the easiest groupings are by country or region because often times countries are separated by natural geographical barriers that prevent people from easily going back and forth. That results in an increase of genetic differences. I forget what that’s called. I was a biology major a decade ago. Regional groupings are also “easier” because of cultural differences. But I agree, our world is complex. I still appreciate this article and it’s info on the two enzymes. Good to know, I should never try to out drink anyone. Unless it’s a race to see who can be more red first.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hmmm your tea versus alcohol theory is pretty interesting. It makes a lot of sense to me. It’s supported by the fact that blacks show the same tolerance towards alcohol as whites. No tea in Africa eather.
      Thanks for your comment. Cheers,
      Micky

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    • It’s an interesting concept, but there are several caveats.
      Archeological evidence indicates the Chinese were drinking alcohol long before Europeans, even before the Chinese started drinking tea.
      Big European towns had problems with drinking water, but a very small percentage of the population lived in town. Even 150 years ago, 90% of people lived in the countryside. European drinking habits also historically tended to watered-down wine and beer. Not likely to create evolutionary pressure.
      The Chinese were drinking rice spirits with much higher alcohol content thousands of years earlier.
      And the quoted study actually indicates that while about 50% of the Chinese population MIGHT have a lower alcohol tolerance, that the other 50% WOULD have a higher tolerance than Europeans IF these enzymes were the only factors.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Tamara – Really? No difference between races? Have you ever watched the NBA? 75% blacks and 0.2% Asians. When is the last time you met a 6’5″ Asian not names Yao Ming? C’mon, Tamara, I have no idea what race you are, but you are definitely a member of the stupid one…

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    • Hey Bruce, I’m afraid that Tamara is spot on on this topic.

      Humans do have genetic variability. Some of that is correlated (in other words, the AVERAGE follows a pattern) with what you call race.

      I’m not sure how you define the “race” of the “blacks” in the NBA, but statistics show that Americans identified as “black” are an incredible ONE INCH taller than Americans identified as “white”.

      In fact if you want to find a correlation in US sports such as basketball, American football and boxing, it is that most participants of ALL “races” come from families with relatively low levels of education and wealth. Maybe sports is one field where they get a level playing field.

      But the original article isn’t about sports, it is about alcohol resistance, and as Tamara has shown, the research Micky quotes simply don’t back up the claims he makes.

      As far as their being no tall people in Asia except Ming, you need to do a little more research. Try with “tallest people in the world”. In both individuals and average height, Africans are nowhere as tall as Western Europeans. The world’s very tallest individuals tend to be ASIAN (which is certainly correlated in part to that fact that 60% of the world’s population is Asian.) How much is diet, how much is genetics? Asian immigrants to the US, when they adopt a high-protein American-style diet, gain numerous inches in a single generation.

      If you know anything about American history, you will realize that African-Americans, issued from slavery, have a very special genetic history, which means that they are not a reflection of the African “race” populations they are in part the descendants of. If you know anything about African populations, you will realize that they are not at all homogeneous. Watusis and Mbuti, to follow up on your basketball logic, have very different average heights.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I would like to ask if you can show the verses in Quran about drinking in Arabic. Also the Hadith that says the prophet Mohammed drank in Arabic. I always have this conversations with my friends who are convinced that alcohol is forbidden in Islam.
    I also agree with the article about races and drinking. I’m Arab every time I drink with Arabs a big fight breaks. Most of the time because of women.

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