Acetaldehyde (Adverse effects)

Acetaldehyde is the most common carcinogen in the world. It is especially prevalent in those foods produced by fermentation such as alcoholic beverages, vinegar, dairy products, homemade beer and mead, even in tobacco.

Because of its pleasant apple-like aroma, acetaldehyde is used as an aromatic in confectionery, fruit juices, soft drinks, dairy and sweet desserts. The most significant sources of acetaldehyde exposure come from the elevated consumption of alcoholic beverages and tobacco.

Technically, it is an organic chemical compound with the CH3CHO formula. It is a volatile liquid, colorless and has a characteristic slightly fruity odor. It is a hepatic metabolite of ethanol and the primary factor for the appearance of alcohol hangover and facial flushing. It is 20 times more toxic than alcohol and a possible carcinogen.

How does acetaldehyde act in your body?

In a normal, healthy stomach, hydrochloric acid can destroy the microbes that produce acetaldehyde (yeast and bacteria) in the digestive tract and that are carried from the mouth to the stomach by saliva.Under certain conditions these microbes form acetaldehyde from alcohol by oxidation or by fermentation of ingested sugar.

In certain persons, the cells that produce the acid of the mucus lining of the stomach disappear due to an atrophy of the mucus lining (called atrophic gastritis), and thus, the microbes can multiply in the stomach. Those individuals that have taken antacids for a long time to treat stomach acid, also run the risk of developing microbes in the stomach. Unlike the liver, the mucus membrane of the intestines and the microbes of the stomach cannot process the acetaldehyde and convert it into acetic acid and water. Therefore, a large amount of acetaldehyde accumulates in the saliva, the stomach acid and the lower intestinal tract.

Acetaldehyde also transforms into fat in the abdomen of the body, provoking obesity in those persons who frequently consume beer, causing what is commonly known as a "beer belly".

Acetaldehyde maximum quantities: It is estimated that the maximum daily intake of acetaldehyde per average weight person (70 kg) should not exceed 0.4 milligrams. This means that the acetaldehyde content in 100 ml of any alcoholic beverage or food should not exceed 50 µmol/l. The acetaldehyde content in certain foods could be a thousand times greater than the safety limit.

The maximum level of acetaldehyde content can be found in certain alcoholic beverages (e.g., calvados, sherry and ciders), fermented products and some fruits and fruit-based products.

Gene or region studied

  • ALDH2
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