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A variant of a gene that plays a role in the breakdown of alcohol in the liver may protect Jews from alcoholism, although living in a heavy-drinking culture appears to weaken the protection, according to a new study by Columbia University Health Sciences researchers.

The alcohol dehydrogenase gene variant implicated in the study, ADH2*2, is rare in Caucasian populations but has been linked previously to lower consumption of alcohol and less alcoholism in Asians and in the Caucasians who have it.

Recently, studies have found a high percentage of Jews, about 20 percent, carry the gene variant. The finding has led some researchers to suggest that the variant may help explain why Jews have low rates of alcoholism. Other previous research has shown a link between the gene variant and alcohol consumption in Jews, but no one had looked at the gene's connection to alcohol dependence symptoms.

Now, in a study led by Dr. Deborah Hasin, professor of clinical public health at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and New York State Psychiatric Institute, she and her colleagues looked for the relationship between genetics and alcoholism in a Jewish population. They interviewed 68 Israeli Jews and measured each person's dependence on alcohol and the presence the ADH2*2 variant.

The results, published in the September issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, showed that subjects with ADH2*2 had fewer symptoms of alcohol dependence than subjects without ADH2*2.

But when the investigators looked within the three Israeli groups they sampled—Ashkenazis (European descent), Sephardics (Middle East and African descent), and recent Russian immigrants (also Ashkenazis)—the gene's protective effect was weakest in the Russian immigrants. Among the subjects with ADH2*2, the Russian immigrants reported more symptoms of past alcohol dependence than their Ashkenazi or Sephardic counterparts.

Dr. Hasin says the study adds to the growing body of evidence that ADH2*2 has a protective effect against alcoholism in Jewish groups but also suggests that living in a heavy-drinking environment, as in the Russian culture, can reduce some of the protection.

—Susan Conova

The events of Sept. 11, 2001, still affect New Yorkers and may do so long into the future. Besides experiencing the emotional and psychological effects a year after the attacks, some New Yorkers are engaging in negative behaviors, such as smoking and eating more and exercising less, that could put them at increased risk for cardiovascular problems.

In a study led by Dr. Lori Mosca, associate professor of medicine at P&S and director of the Preventive Cardiology Program at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University Health Sciences investigators began surveying 244 participants from the New York metropolitan area within a month of the attack and continued to evaluate them for 11 months. Participants were asked if they were doing more, less, or about the same of six activities: eating, sleeping, exercising, smoking, drinking alcohol, and socializing.

The researchers found that 75 percent of study participants said they significantly changed their lifestyle since the attack. Two-thirds of those who initially reported behavior changes that could increase cardiovascular disease risk still had not returned to normal nearly one year later, the researchers found. Only 11 percent of all the study participants were free of risk factors.

The baseline and four-month follow-up findings were published in the Sept. 15 American Journal of Cardiology. The paper, according to Dr. Mosca, is one of the few to look at the effect of terrorism on cardiovascular risk factors. Dr. Mosca plans to submit a report about the 11-month follow-up data for publication.

She also expects to conduct further evaluations of the study participants to monitor their heart health. She and her colleagues continue to offer free cardiovascular risk screenings to New York metropolitan area residents. For more information, call 212-305-4866.

—Matthew Dougherty

One fifth of sexually active young women don't believe they have the right to participate in important decisions about sex with their partners, according to findings from a study by Columbia University Health Sciences investigators. As a result, these women may be at greater risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, having an unwanted pregnancy, and being subjected to sexual violence.

Led by Dr. Vaughn I. Rickert, professor of population and family health at the Mailman School of Public Health and director of research and evaluation at the Center for Community Health and Education, the researchers collected data from 904 sexually active women from age 14 to 26 at two Texas family planning clinics. The clinics serve roughly equal proportions of Caucasians, Mexican Americans, and African Americans from a range of poor and affluent neighborhoods.

The investigators asked the women about their perceptions of their right to communicate expectations or control aspects of their sexual encounters.

The researchers found that almost 20 percent of the women in the study believed they never had the right to: make their own decisions about contraception; tell their partner they do not want to have intercourse without birth control; make love differently from what their partner was doing; say their partner is being too rough; and stop foreplay at any time.

Women who had poor grades in school, were a member of an ethnic minority, and inconsistently used contraceptives were more likely to lack sexual assertiveness.

Although prior studies about women's sexual assertiveness often focused on a narrow subject, such as condom use, Dr. Rickert and colleagues took a broader approach by looking at a range of women's attitudes toward sexual rights.

The study also is one of the first to investigate views of adolescents and girls from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

The investigators say that programs to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and sexual coercion should include methods to assess and correct the erroneous perceptions about women's sexual rights.

"We need to discuss with our young women and adolescents what they can do and what is appropriate for them to do," Dr. Rickert says. "Then we must follow up on how to get them to do that."

The findings were published in the July/August issue of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.

—Matthew Dougherty