Does your face turn red when you drink alcohol? If so, it’s an indicator that you may be ALDH2 Deficient, a genetic mutation that is prevalent in over a billion people worldwide, primarily in people of Chinese, Japanese and Korean descent.
Because 40% of East Asians have ALDH2 Deficiency and suffer from Alcohol Flush Reaction, the condition is also referred to as Asian Flush or Asian Glow. The symptoms range from red facial flushing to increased heart rate, dizziness and nausea. The root cause of Alcohol Flush Reaction is often a genetically weakened aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2) enzyme that can’t metabolize alcohol efficiently. This condition is hereditary and is passed on from generation to generation.
How Does Alcohol Flush Reaction Happen?
When we drink alcohol, our body immediately metabolizes the ethanol in the alcohol into acetaldehyde, which is a toxic carcinogen. In most people, the aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2) enzyme metabolizes the acetaldehyde further into acetic acid, which is a harmless form of vinegar. However, for those who have ALDH2 Deficiency, they are unable to quickly break down the acetaldehyde, which results in higher concentrations of acetaldehyde throughout the body.
This same ALDH2 enzyme is also responsible for breaking down histamines. When an ALDH2 Deficient enzyme has to work overtime to metabolize acetaldehyde, it can’t break down the histamines. As a result, the histamines build up and red flushing is experienced in the face and other areas of the body (i.e., Alcohol Flush Reaction).
Should I Take Anti-Histamines to Stop Alcohol Flush Reaction?
When drinking alcohol, some people have tried taking antacid products in the hopes that the anti-histamine properties will reduce the facial flushing and blood flow to the skin. However, medical professionals typically do not recommend that antacids and alcohol be combined because it can cause an overproduction of stomach acid, which can damage the stomach lining and result in stomach ulcers. Another reason is that antacids don’t actually reduce the amount of acetaldehyde in the body, which is the real source of the negative physical symptoms of Alcohol Flush Reaction. Acetaldehyde is also a reactive compound that can cause damage to our proteins and DNA. In particular, people who have ALDH2 Deficiency are twice as likely to have gastrointestinal and esophageal cancer, three times more likely to suffer liver cirrhosis, and 1.5 times more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease.