Occurrence of carcinogenic aldehydes in alcoholic beverages from Asia

Dirk W. Lachenmeier, Yulia B. Monakhova, Jürgen Rehm, Thomas Kuballa, Irene Straub


Lachenmeier, D. W., Monakhova, Y. B., Rehm, J., Kuballa, T, & Straub, I (2013). Occurrence of carcinogenic aldehydes in alcoholic beverages from Asia. International Journal of Alcohol and Drug Research, 2 (2), 31-36. doi: 10.7895/ijadr.v2i2.88 (http://dx.doi.org/10.7895/ijadr.v2i2.88)

Aims: Formaldehyde and acetaldehyde associated with alcohol consumption are both carcinogenic to humans (WHO IARC group 1 carcinogens). While several surveys exist on occurrence and exposure of the two aldehydes in alcoholic beverages from Europe and the Americas, we aimed to study domestic products of Asian countries.

Methods: Alcohol products from Asian countries (China, Korea, Japan and Thailand), including traditionally fermented beverages (sake, rice wine) as well as distilled spirits, were collected (n = 54) and chemically analyzed for alcohol quality.

Findings: In 9 of 39 samples (23%) analyzed for formaldehyde, its concentration was higher than the WHO IPCS tolerable concentration of 2.6 mg/L. Three samples contained more than 10 mg/L with a maximum concentration of 14.6 mg/L. In 15 of 54 samples (28%) analyzed for acetaldehyde, the concentration exceeded 50 g/hL of pure alcohol (pa). The maximum concentration of acetaldehyde was 127 g/hL pa. The incidence of the aldehydes, especially of formaldehyde, in the Asian sample was considerably higher than what was found in surveys of European-style alcoholic beverages.

Conclusions: While acetaldehyde is a natural constituent of alcoholic beverages and is also produced during ethanol metabolism in humans, the presence of formaldehyde is unusual and raises questions about its origin. A likely explanation is that it is used as a disinfectant during production—a questionable practice, not only because of the resultant residues in the beverages, but also because of the risks to production workers of occupational exposure. Detailed exposure assessment using larger samples is needed to characterize the risk arising from the aldehydes for the alcohol-drinking population.


alcoholic beverages; Asia; acetaldehyde; formaldehyde; quality control; alcohol-related disorders

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7895/ijadr.v2i2.88


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