Do You Turn Red When You Drink? It May Be More Dangerous Than You Think

If you're one of the unlucky ones that turn red as a tomato after drinking then you might want to lay off the alcohol.

The curse of the Asian flush is this: A lobster-red face and a warm uncomfortable feeling all over.

These symptoms often occur almost immediately after sipping alcohol, and with continued drinking progresses to heightened heart rates, headaches, and nausea.

According to a study published in 2009, approximately 36 percent of East Asians (Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans) experience the Asian glow. The science behind it lies in the fact that different enzymes are required to break down alcohol. Around 80 percent of Asians have the gene coding that converts alcohol into acetaldehyde at a faster and greater rate, but about 50 percent of Asians have trouble breaking this enzyme down. This, in turn, allows the alcohol to metabolize faster which brings along the dreaded flush.

Officially, there is no way to prevent the Asian flush (or medically, alcohol flush reaction), but those who live with the deficiency have been known to take steps to minimize effects. The most popular method is by taking antihistamines such as Pepcid AC, Zantac, and Zyrtec beforehand. Though effective, this practice increases the rate of your blood alcohol level which makes you more susceptible to alcohol poisoning. The use of histamine-2 blockers to reduce the Asian flush has long-term effects too, including the increased risk of stomach cancers and a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.

Research has revealed that the Asian flush goes beyond physical symptoms. The deficiency in the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) is inherited, and poses several risks to individuals—about 8 percent of the world population that possess it. Philip J. Brooks, Ph.D., of the National Institutes of Health says, "The flushing response is a clinically useful biomarker of genetic susceptibility to esophageal cancer risk from alcohol."

"If you carry the flushing mutation, alcohol could be very damaging to you."—KJ Patel, Cambridge University

Furthermore, a new study suggests that drinking alcohol can boost your risk of cancer and even more so when you have the Asian flush. The British study exposed alcohol to mice (equivalent to a human consuming four to five pints of beer), and found that considerable DNA and chromosome damage in their blood cells were observed afterward. The same study examined that mice with the flush gene took four times more damage than normal mice.


KJ Patel, a professor at Cambridge University says, "If you carry the flushing mutation, alcohol could be very damaging to you.â" This is due to that fact that DNA damage can lead to cancer, he explains.

The International Agency for Research for Cancer classified alcohol consumption and acetaldehyde associated with alcohol consumption as a risk for cancers in the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colorectal, liver and female breast.

h/t: CBC News

This story originally appeared on

* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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