Recent research has shown that nearly 50% of Asians experience a red face after drinking alcohol, not to mention the plethora of non-Asians who also experience similar alcohol related side-effects. This flushing reaction is commonly referred to as Asian Flush or Asian Glow and, according to recent research, may indicate an increased risk of esophageal cancer (or cancer of the throat).
When you drink an alcoholic beverage, the alcohol is absorbed into your blood via the esophagus, stomach and intestine. The period over which the alcohol absorbs into your blood stream can vary anywhere from 15 minutes to a few hours. Some factors that might affect the rate at which alcohol can be absorbed by the body include your sex, body mass, the type and strength of the alcohol consumed, and the amount of food you have lining your stomach. Asian Flush, more technically referred to by scientists as “Alcohol Flush Reaction”, describes our body’s inability to completely break-down alcohol that has been ingested by our bodies.
The primary cause of the Asian Flush reaction, which may also be accompanied by nausea and a rapid heartbeat, is a hereditary deficiency in an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2), a commonly shared trait amongst approximately 50% of people of East Asian ancestry (Japanese, Chinese or Koreans).
This deficiency of the aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) enzyme results in the body being unable to properly break down a byproduct of the metabolism of the alcohol called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is toxic and thus, as result of your body not being able to properly break it down, this toxin accumulates and causes the red flushing that we all commonly refer to as Asian Flush.
Recent research is trying to raise public awareness of the possible link between Asian Flush and increased esophageal cancer risk. The malignancy, called squamous cell esophageal cancer, can also be caused by smoking and, whilst surgery is an option, survival rates are low. Light drinkers should not be so concerned, however, the research indicates that the risks rise sharply with heavier consumption. According to the research, someone with Asian Flush who drinks two beers per day has 6 to 10 times the risk of esophageal cancer as someone who does not suffer from Asian flush.
Our bodies are a lot smarter than we think. If you are turning red in the face after drinking alcohol, then perhaps it is your body telling you not to drink. That said, the consumption of alcohol is so firmly ingrained in our social and business cultures that simply avoiding it altogether is not a very desirable option for most people. However, people with Asian Flush should take such research as a warning, and perhaps as a reminder that their body is telling them to take it easy on the alcohol.