Background: Both medical and forensic needs require reliable detection of earlier ethanol intake after the disappearance of ethanol from blood. The esters of ethanol with free fatty acids (FAEEs) are candidate markers of this kind. However, it is unknown whether FAEEs can serve as a marker for a single prior ethanol intake. In addition, the period for which FAEEs are elevated is unknown. Therefore, we measured FAEEs in heavy drinkers admitted to detoxification, and in healthy subjects after a drinking experiment.
Methods: Blood from 30 heavy drinkers was obtained for up to 5 days during a detoxification period in a psychiatric hospital. In addition, 17 healthy subjects who participated in a drinking experiment and who were abstinent thereafter gave blood during a similar time period for analysis of FAEEs. Fatty acid ethyl esters were measured by gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy.
Results: Heavy drinkers had much higher ethanol and FAEEs concentrations than healthy subjects; however, in both groups, FAEEs decreased rapidly during the first day. Only in heavy drinkers, elevated concentrations of FAEEs were observed at days 2 to 4. Concentrations of FAEEs were not associated with serum triglycerides or patients' body mass index.
Conclusions: It is concluded that kinetics of FAEEs are different in heavy drinkers compared with healthy subjects and that FAEEs are of limited value for the detection of prior single ethanol intake.