Ah, the Asian Flush (or Alcohol Flush). Whether you’re an experienced drinker, just started or don’t even drink but have friends and family who do, there’s a high chance you’re familiar with this term.
You’ve probably noticed that some people tend to get redder than others when drinking while some don’t, and won’t ever experience skin flushing in their lives.
Let’s see why this happens:
All In The Enzymes (& Genes)
Yes enzymes, or the lack thereof, are the main cause of skin flushing. 1/3 people of East Asian heritage (eg: Chinese, Japanese, Korean) have a deficiency of enzymes called aldehyde dehydrogenase that’s involved in how our bodies break down alcohol.
Aside from minor (or major) embarrassment, you’d be surprised to know that this condition does have positive aspects to it. Similarly, skin flushing also has really worrying negative health implications which you might wanna get checked if you get red easily.
It’s important to understand that alcohol is broken down in our livers in two stages. The first is when the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase converts alcohol into a chemical called acetaldehyde, the toxic chemical responsible for hangovers.
The second stage utilises the aforementioned enzyme, aldehyde dehydrogenase – the one most people of East Asian heritage lack remember? The lack of that enzyme results in an inability to fully break down alcohol which then causes, The Asian Flush.
How Is It Helpful/Harmful?
If you have this condition, you may experience prolonged high levels of acetaldehyde when drinking alcohol along with its side effects which include nausea, sweating, headaches, an increased heart rate, and dizziness,
Thankfully, alcoholism and alcohol-related cancers happen less often in East Asian countries because people who have the Asian Flush usually feel so terrible after drinking alcohol, they drink much less, if at all.
The risk is highest for those with partial deficiency. Their low enzyme activity makes them develop a tolerance to drinking’s unpleasant effects, but are still exposed to high levels of acetaldehyde.
What Can You Do About It?
Some feel a more intense pleasure than others when drinking alcohol, which can contribute to addiction. There are pharmaceuticals designed specifically to reduce alcohol-induced facial flushing such as Zantac and Tagame.
Over the counter medication like those generally help with the release of stomach acid. There is a rumour that antihistamines or cold medicine have an effect of reducing alcohol-induced facial flushing, but they absolutely do not.
Perhaps the most obvious method of lowering health risks that come with alcohol-related skin flushing is to drink in moderation. Just because you have this condition doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t drink alcohol at all – just know your limits.
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