Alcohol flush reaction (also referred to as “Asian flush”) refers to one of many physiological reactions associated with alcohol consumption. Simply put, this reaction refers to a red flushing response that typically manifests on one’s face, neck and chest after a few drinks of alcohol. Given the social nature of alcohol consumption, many sufferers report that these physiological symptoms are also accompanied by feelings of anxiety and embarrassment.
There is a lot of information published about this disorder on the internet. Some of it is accurate and some of it is simply wrong. The purpose of this article is to provide a simple and understandable explanation of the nature of the Asian flush disorder with references to real medical journal articles.
Who is at risk?
The flushing response to alcohol is typically, but not exclusively, experienced by Asians. According to a 2007 study conducted by researchers M Eng, S Luczak and T Wall, approximately 36% of people of Japanese, Chinese and Korean descent exhibit a distinct physiological response to the consumption of alcohol.1 This response includes nausea, increased heart rate and a red facial flushing commonly referred to as Asian flush. The predominant cause of this Asian alcohol flushing can be narrowed down to a genetic deficiency in the aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) enzyme, which has been observed to be most prevalent in Chinese-American, Japanese, Han Chinese, Korean and Taiwanese test samples.2
The ALDH2 enzyme is usually active in breaking down a toxic by-product of the alcohol metabolism process called acetaldehyde. Therefore, the consumption of alcohol by ALDH2 deficient individuals who suffer from Asian flush syndrome invariably results in an accumulation of acetaldehyde in the body.
The accumulation of acetaldehyde in one’s body can cause vasodilation (i.e. a widening of blood vessels) associated with an increase in one’s skin temperature, hot flush, red facial flushing, tachycardia (i.e. increased heart and respiration rate), lowering of one’s blood pressure, dry mouth and throat associated allergic reactions, nausea, and headache.3
Given the highly social nature of alcohol consumption in our society, it is no surprise that people who experience the above mentioned symptoms often also feel very embarrassed and anxious when suffering their reactions in public. This psychological aspect of Asian flush is more often than not overlooked in place of a purely physiological consideration of its symptoms.
Think about it. Alcohol consumption is generally accepted in most societies as the cornerstone of socializing in a casual and professional context. It is a common thing for people to ask each other out for a drink, to have after work drinks, client drinks, birthday drinks, going away drinks, etc. Moreover, it is in these social and professional contexts that people want to look their best and not have to worry about red facial flushing, swelling, headaches, etc.
This is why sufferers of Asian alcohol flushing are usually burdened by a social anxiety that accompanies their embarrassing physiological symptoms. It follows that a well rounded consideration of the disorder should incorporate both physiological and psychological aspects of how sufferers are affected.
Long Term Risks
People are too often preoccupied with short term side effects that they seldom stop to think that these reactions could be a warning sign that we are doing far more damage to our wellbeing than we think. This inclination for short sightedness can often lead to the overlooking of long term risks and the development of serious underlying health issues.
In this regard, it is important for to be aware of a number of serious health warnings that are specific to people with Asian flush. For a detailed overview of these warnings please refer to our article about cancer risks linked to Asian flush.
Real Life Asian Flush Experience
This video was posted by a fellow sufferer of Asian flush. She describes some of the physiological symptoms discussed above along with the accompanying feelings of embarrassment commonly reported by surveyed subjects.
At the end of the video she makes a very good point. This is something that a lot of people go through and, as she so rightly states, there must be something we can do.
What can we do?
We encourage you to view the Asian flush product reviews section of our website to gain a better understanding about the products that are currently available for people with alcohol flush.
We also recommend checking out www.asianredness.com for a free controversial guide about Asian redness containing specific instructions about what we can do about it.