Fatty acid ethyl esters: Markers of alcohol abuse and alcoholism

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64 Scopus citations


Chronic alcoholism, which is associated with hepatic, pancreatic, and myocardial diseases, is one of the major health problems in the United States with high morbidity and mortality. Many individuals who abuse alcohol chronically die even before reaching the clinical stage of the disease. Reliable biomarkers of the diseases induced by chronic alcohol abuse, as well as for alcoholism, currently are not available. In the current study, we measured plasma concentrations of fatty acid ethyl esters [(FAEEs), nonoxidative metabolites of ethanol] in 39 patients with a detectable concentration of alcohol in their blood samples. In turn, we determined the relation of FAEE concentrations with blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Of 39 patients in whom we evaluated this relation, only five had a history of chronic alcohol abuse, and six had a history of acute alcohol abuse. Patients' age ranged from 25 to 71 years. Within this age range, greater concentrations of FAEEs were found in the plasma samples obtained from patients in the 41- to 50-year age group. There were no sex-related differences in BAC, nor in FAEE concentrations. Thirteen patients had a BAC greater than 300 mg%. For 11 patients, the BAC ranged between 200 and 299 mg%, and, for 12 patients, the BAC ranged between 100 and 199 mg%. In comparison with findings for patients with a BAC that ranged between 100 and 299 mg%, the FAEE concentrations were approximately twofold higher in patients with a BAC greater than 300 mg%. Ethyl palmitate and ethyl oleate were the main FAEEs detected in most patients. In general, FAEE concentrations increased with increasing BAC. However, in comparison with patients with a history of acute alcohol abuse, a greater increase in total FAEE concentrations was observed in patients with a history of chronic alcohol abuse (4,250 ng/ml and 15,086 ng/ml, respectively). Fatty acid ethyl esters were either detected in trace amounts or not detectable in the plasma of control subjects with no known alcohol ingestion. These results support our hypothesis that nonoxidative metabolism of ethanol to FAEEs is an important pathway of ethanol disposition during chronic alcohol abuse, and that FAEE concentrations can be a more reliable biomarker of chronic alcohol abuse than a history of acute alcohol abuse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-158
Number of pages8
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 2004


  • Alcohol abuse
  • BAC
  • Biomarkers
  • FAEEs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Biochemistry
  • Toxicology
  • Neurology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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