Asian Flush — Why turning red when drinking is a sign of a bigger issue.

Turning red in the face when drinking alcohol is a very common experience and people often wonder why it is happening. It is often confused with an alcohol allergy. Often called Asian Flush or Asian Glow, the more formal term for this is Alcohol Flush Reaction. Asian Flush may also come with other physical symptoms, including a feeling of overheating, increased heart rate, and sometimes headache, dizziness and nausea.

What Causes Asian Flush?

Asian Flush is caused by a build-up of a dangerous toxin called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is very reactive and causes damage to DNA and proteins, and leads to the inflammation that causes the face to turn red when drinking alcohol.

When we drink, our body turns the alcohol into acetaldehyde. Normally, this acetaldehyde is quickly broken down and becomes non-toxic. However, about 1 billion people globally have a genetic condition called ALDH2 Deficiency, and cannot properly break down the acetaldehyde. Approximately 40% of the East Asian population have ALDH2 Deficiency. In those with ALDH2 Deficiency, the acetaldehyde accumulates to very high levels and leads to the experience of Asian Flush.

Put simply, Asian Flush is an indication of a bigger issue, called ALDH2 Deficiency.

How Does ALDH2 Deficiency Impact Health?

A red face from alcohol can be frustrating and annoying, but it is a sign that more serious damage is taking place in the body. As the acetaldehyde builds up, it continuously causes damage, and those with ALDH2 Deficiency are at significantly increased risk of liver disease and cancers like esophageal cancer and gastric cancer. This is due to long-term exposure to acetaldehyde, and not just from alcohol.

In addition, those with ALDH2 Deficiency should be aware of other sources of acetaldehyde we are exposed to every day. These sources are difficult to avoid and cause acetaldehyde to continuously build-up and circulate in the body at low levels.

  1. Acetaldehyde is the most common air pollutant. Coming from industrial pollution, building materials, car exhaust, wood burning, and more, acetaldehyde is ubiquitous in indoor and outdoor air, particularly in urban areas with significant pollution.
  2. Acetaldehyde is the main toxin in cigarette smoke. Acetaldehyde is created when a cigarette is burned, and it is the most common toxin in smoke. In fact, it is the acetaldehyde that is responsible for the majority of the negative long-term health effects of smoking.
  3. Acetaldehyde is found in common foods and beverages. These include fermented foods, yogurts, coffee, tea, ripe fruit, bread, and artificial flavors. A diet high in sugars will also lead to acetaldehyde production in the stomach. It is important that those with ALDH2 Deficiency limit their intake of these foods.

Is There a Cure for ALDH2 Deficiency?

Because ALDH2 Deficiency is a genetic enzyme mutation, there is no way to ‘cure’ it. However, there are certain things we can do to reduce our health risk and enjoy the best life possible. What is most important is limiting our body’s acetaldehyde exposure as much as possible. Limiting our intake of alcohol, coffee, sugary foods and beverages, and exposure to air pollution and cigarette smoke can help reduce acetaldehyde accumulation. For more information, visit ALDH2 Deficiency Solution Resources.

There are many things in life that we cannot control — like conditions that we inherited genetically from our parents. However, we can still enjoy the best life possible by taking steps to limit our exposure to everyday toxins like acetaldehyde.

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