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Alcohol Blushing

By March 8, 2024No Comments

If you’re like me, you get red after two sips of any alcohol. You also might get a racing heartbeat, nausea, and a pounding headache. Maybe even a stuffy nose and/or hives. So what is happening when it looks like we are alcohol blushing? It’s an alcohol intolerance called, “Alcohol Flush Reaction.” Some even call it, “asian glow” or  “asian flush.” Let’s dive into what it is.

What is the Alcohol Flush Reaction aka Alcohol Blushing?

As mentioned above, Alcohol Flush Reaction is an alcohol intolerance. It happens when you are deficient in the enzyme, alcohol dehydrogenase (ALDH2), which helps to break down (digest) alcohol. When a normal person with no ALDH2 deficiency drinks alcohol, their ADH enzyme converts alcohol to acetaldehyde, a toxic molecule. From there, acetaldehyde is metabolized to nontoxic molecules by another enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). However, when a person with the ALDH2 deficiency drinks alcohol, the second part of the process doesn’t work.  The acetaldehyde is not broken down efficiently and it causes the release of histamine. This release is what causes the facial flushing and other nasty, hangover-like symptoms.

Does This Only Happen to Asian People?

A very common question around the Alcohol Flush Reaction is whether or not non-asian people can also experience this. While this genetic enzyme deficiency happens mostly to people of East Asian descent, it can happen to anyone of any ethnicity. It’s estimated that over 560 million people suffer from this reaction. There are also a few other common conditions to consider if you haven’t always gotten red when you drink and it started happening later in life:

  1. Mass Cell Activation Syndrome: A condition where your body’s mast cells release an inappropriate amount of chemicals in your body. It can happen to children or adults, and alcohol can be a big trigger for it.
  2. Low Histamine Tolerance: This is when your body is unable to digest histamine efficiently. This causes a ton of symptoms since we consume a lot of histamine through our environment, food and drinks. As you can imagine, if you have a low histamine tolerance, high histamine alcohols can trigger facial flushing and the other symptoms mentioned above with Alcohol Flush Reaction.
  3. Rosacea: This is a common skin condition that causes flushing or long-term redness on your face. It mainly affects middle-aged women with fair skin. It can be mistaken for acne or other skin conditions. When someone with rosacea drinks alcohol, it can make their rosacea flare up and cause worsening facial flushing, feeling hot, and other symptoms.

How Can I Prevent the Alcohol Flush Reaction from Happening?

Unfortunately, there is no “cure” for the Alcohol Flush Reaction. However, unlike years ago, there are now solutions to prevent the reaction from happening. My #1 recommendation is to use Glowless alcohol flush patches. These are transparent patches that you apply 30 minutes before drinking. The patch delivers specific vitamins and antioxidants that help your body break down acetaldehyde and detox your liver. The result of this is that you can finally enjoy a drink without getting red or feeling awful. A few other tips to help lessen symptoms can be found here, too.