Children's sweet tooth may point to future alcoholism

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Children who routinely eat too many sweets could carry a genetic predisposition that can make them more likely to become alcoholics in later life, according to a study of drinking behaviour.

Children who routinely eat too many sweets could carry a genetic predisposition that can make them more likely to become alcoholics in later life, according to a study of drinking behaviour.

Scientists believe that a craving for sweets and alcohol could have a common basis in the brain which is determined at least in part by genes rather than upbringing.

The researchers have suggested that the findings could be used to develop a test for potential alcoholism that might be used on children long before they begin to experiment with drink. "Perhaps a benign and inexpensive sweet test, which takes only 10 minutes to perform, may be a first step in developing such a test," said Alexey Kampov-Polevoy, of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, a member of the research team.

"This test could be used to screen youngsters to detect those with a predisposition to alcoholism, which might allow early education and prevention rather than waiting until alcoholism develops," he said.

When the research team studied the preferences for sweets and alcoholic drinks in 19 pairs of genetically identical twins, they found a common inherited link between the two kinds of craving.

"In this study, we found that despite different life experiences, twin brothers continue to share sweet and alcohol preferences," said David Overstreet, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Preliminary results of the research, which were presented yesterday to a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans, confirmed the link between a sweet tooth and a liking for alcohol.

"Several years ago, we found the first clinical evidence linking sweet liking with alcoholism in a study that involved subjects tasting a wide range of concentrations of table sugar in water," Professor Overstreet said.

Dr Kampov-Polevoy said the findings point to a common link to the way the brain responds to the sensuous aspects of sweets and alcohol. "Disturbance in pleasurable responses to sweets may reflect a dysfunction in the brain's system of positive reinforcement, which is also involved in the development of alcoholism," he said.

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