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Does your face get flushed after having a few alcoholic drinks? A lot of people observe their faces turning red after the consumption of alcohol which is known as alcohol flush reaction. This phenomenon takes place when a person has a trouble digesting alcohol completely suggesting that one’s body is less tolerant to alcohol, also known as alcohol sensitivity.
Every alcoholic drink, including wine, beer, and hard liquor, contain a substance known as ethanol. Once alcohol enters the human system, the body begins to metabolize or break this down into other substances which are easier to flush out. One of these metabolites is known as acetaldehyde: a highly toxic chemical. The body needs an enzyme known as ALDH2 (aldehyde dehydrogenase 2) to metabolize acetaldehyde. This enzyme breaks down acetaldehyde into acetate, however, the ALDH2 enzyme is inactive in people who experience alcohol flush reaction. The inability of the body to process acetaldehyde leads to its excessive accumulation in the body, causing a condition called acetaldehydemia.
When a person drinks in moderation, their body is usually able to process such metabolites effectively, however, when a person consumes too much alcohol or they are insensitive to alcohol, their body may be incapable of managing all of the toxic metabolites. Because of this, the level of acetaldehyde starts building up in the body. In response to the toxic material, the blood vessels in the face start dilating, giving it a red or a flushed appearance. Additionally, it might also cause a racing heartbeat and nausea and these symptoms might make drinking an unpleasant experience, causing people to drink less. In a few people, even small quantities of alcohol might cause this.
Susceptibility to facial flushing
Research has established that nearly 540 million people worldwide have ALDH2 deficiency. This accounts for nearly 8 percent of the total population. Comparatively, facial flushing from acetaldehydemia is more common in the East Asian population. People of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese descent are highly likely to have a flush reaction to alcohol as it has been found that nearly 36 percent of East Asians develop facial flushing upon consumption of alcohol. Consequently, the red face phenomenon is also known as the “Asian glow,” or “the Asian flush.”
Reports have surfaced that people belonging to the Jewish ethnicity are also experiencing facial flushing. Till date, it has not been discovered why certain ethnicities develop this problem while others do not, however, this is a genetic complication that may run in families.
Facial flushing associated with cancer risk
Acetaldehyde is regarded as an extremely toxic, carcinogenic, and mutagenic agent and its buildup in the body is associated with an increased risk of developing cancer. Therefore, an individual who experiences facial flushing after drinking alcohol, runs a high risk of developing cancer.
Until now, many researchers have tried exploring the link between the risk of cancer and facial flushing. They have found that individuals experiencing facial flushing are at a higher risk of developing many forms of cancer, including laryngeal cancer (OPLC), esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC), and aerodigestive tract cancer (UATC), which affects the oral cavity and the pharyngeal. This risk was found to be higher in East Asian men.
Some researchers also tried exploring the association between facial flushing and endometrial and breast cancer, however, the results were indecisive. Research has been able to establish a link between facial flushing and a high risk of developing synchronous or metachronous cancers of the upper gastrointestinal tract.
Can alcohol flush be prevented?
As alcohol flush is caused by the genetic deficiency of a gene, the only feasible way of preventing it and the associated risk of cancers and high blood pressure is to avoid or limit the intake of alcohol. Some people resort to using antihistamines to alleviate the discoloration, however, this is not recommended. While some people may find facial flushing to be an embarrassing phenomenon, it is important to note that it is their body’s way of telling them that acetaldehyde levels have reached a toxic level in their body and that they need to hold back and rehydrate with water.
One must also note that alcohol does not cause complications in only the people struggling with this genetic disorder but can cause a host of problems in other individuals as well. Excessive alcohol consumption can give rise to alcohol use disorder (AUD), alcoholic myopathy (disease of the muscle tissue), alcoholic polyneuropathy (disease of the peripheral nerves), alcoholic gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), alcoholic cardiomyopathy (heart disease), alcoholic liver disease, alcohol-induced pancreatitis (inflammation of pancreas), fetal alcohol syndrome (birth defects), stroke, epilepsy, and depressive disorders.
Seeking professional help
If you or a loved one is battling an addiction to alcohol and is looking for a credible rehab center for alcohol detox treatment, get in touch with the Hillside Mission. Our state-of-the-art rapid detox center, located in Southern California, provides evidence-based alcohol addiction treatment programs personalized to achieve long-lasting recovery. For more information about how we can help you combat your addiction, call our 24/7 alcohol detox helpline 866-225-6101 and speak with a member of our admissions team. You can also chat online with a representative now.