Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase is a key enzyme in folate metabolism, which affects DNA synthesis and methylation and is possibly linked to colorectal carcinogenesis. Alcohol and acetaldehyde have an adverse effect on folate metabolism. This study investigated the relationship of functional MTHFR C677T and ALDH2 polymorphisms to colorectal adenomas with reference to alcohol consumption in a case-control study of male officials in the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) who received a preretirement health examination at two SDF hospitals. The study subjects were 452 cases of colorectal adenoma and 1050 controls with no polyp who underwent total colonoscopy. Genotypes were determined by the PCR-RFLP method using genomic DNA extracted from the buffy coat. Statistical adjustment was made for age, hospital, rank in the SDF, body mass index, cigarette-years and alcohol intake. Neither MTHFR C677T nor ALDH2 showed a measurable association with colorectal adenoma. While high alcohol consumption was associated with a moderately increased risk of colorectal adenoma, neither of the two polymorphisms showed a significant effect on the association between alcohol and colorectal adenoma. Individuals with the variant alleles ALDH2*2 and MTHFR 677T had a decreased risk of colorectal adenomas, showing adjusted odds ratios of 0.70 (95% confidence interval 0.49-1.00) for all adenomas and 0.57 (0.34-0.95) for large adenomas (> or = 5 mm), as compared to individuals with ALDH2*1/1 and MTHFR 677CC genotypes combined. The findings may be interpreted as suggesting that folate inhibits the growth of colorectal adenomas, but further confirmation is needed.