The First Happy Hour

Behind every sip of beer you drink, there are millions of years of evolution at work. Research into 70 million years of primate evolution indicates that our ancestors evolved a markedly enhanced ability to metabolize or break down ethanol 10 million years ago. Who knew they had happy hours back then?

That doesn’t mean that humans have been drinking wine and beer that long. After the first civilizations formed in the Middle East about 9,000 years ago, people discovered that the fermentation process preserves food. That is probably when people began experimenting with alcoholic beverages. Previously, historians believed this was the first time alcohol, that is specifically ethanol, entered the human diet. It has been argued that alcoholism is due to the relatively short amount of time humans have been consuming ethanol, which has not allowed us evolve an effective way of metabolizing and digesting it.

However, the new theory suggests that early primates began eating low amounts of ethanol around 80 million years ago when flowering plants began producing fruit. These fruits became infected with yeast that was capable of fermenting the sugars stored within. Then, as primates began living on the ground below instead of in the trees, they would have eaten the fruit that fell to the ground, which would have been at various stages of fermentation with even higher levels of ethanol. This would have given them an evolutionary advantage over other species that could not break down ethanol.

When we digest ethanol, it is absorbed in the small intestine, enters the blood stream, moves to the liver and is metabolized there by enzymes called alcohol dehydrogenase, or ADH and aldehyde dehydrogenase. These enzymes work together to break down ethanol molecules to carbon dioxide and water. —> Read More