Women can’t hold their drink like a (young) man

Young men and their alcohol. Do not try this at home.

It's not just about testosterone (Image: http://www.alpabrpad.com)

We have all met at least one young, fit man who is excessively proud of his ability to hold his alcohol "like a man!" Well, to be perfectly technical about it, all he is really declaring is that he:

  • is of the male gender;
  • still has his youth.

His alcohol tolerance threshold has nothing to do with his liver. Nor is it any reflection on how "manly" he is. (His manliness most likely depends on his body's level of a hormone called testosterone).

Instead, it is all dependent on a substance (enzyme) in his stomach which starts the chemical reaction his body uses to breakdown and metabolise the alcohol. This enzyme is called alcohol dehydrogenase, but let's just call it the alcohol enzyme.


Women, particularly below the age of 50, have significantly lower alcohol enzyme activity than young men

Elderly men also have lower alcohol enzyme activity than young men. So women are not being "soft" when they feel a little tipsy after just one or two glasses of bubbly. Their bodies are just not capable of physically metabolising the alcohol "like a man". Instead, their lower levels of the alcohol enzyme means less alcohol is broken down and therefore more alcohol is available to enter their bloodstream (and make them tipsy). The downside is that women (and elderly men) are therefore also at greater risk of the negative effects, diseases or complications of alcohol.

On the plus side, when a woman is clearly unable to hold her alcohol, she can confidently say that she:

  • is of the female gender;
  • still has her youth.

And what's not to be proud about that?!

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