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Are Asians Allergic to Alcohol?

By January 8, 2024No Comments

This is one of the most common questions I get when I post on social media about Alcohol Flush Reaction, also known as, Asian Glow/ Flush. People always comment asking, “Are Asians allergic to alcohol?” or the tell me, “Asians are allergic to alcohol.” In this post, I will go over the differences between an allergy and an intolerance, the symptoms of them, and whether or not Asians are allergic to alcohol.

@glowless.co Alcohol flush reaction is an intolerance and NOT an allergy 🗣️ #alcoholflush #lowhistamine #asianglow #histamine #lowhistaminediet #alcoholintolorance #greenscreen ♬ original sound – Glowless

What is the difference between an alcohol intolerance and an allergy?

Most people think that an allergy or an intolerance to alcohol are interchangeable. Fortunately, they are not and there are very clear differences between the two. According to the Cleveland Clinic, an “alcohol intolerance is a genetic, metabolic disorder of the digestive system. Your body doesn’t process alcohol the way it should.” Whereas, an “alcohol allergy is an immune system response — your immune system overreacts to an ingredient in alcohol. You may be allergic to one of the substances in alcohol (a chemical, grain or preservative, such as sulfite).” Why does this matter? While there are some overlapping symptoms that we will get into, an alcohol allergy, if left untreated, can be life-threatening.

How do symptoms differ between the two?

Before we dive into symptoms, let’s clear up what causes an alcohol intolerance. As mentioned above, this comes from a genetic disorder. When people who have this genetic disorder drink alcohol, their body cannot break down the toxic by-product of alcohol (acetaldehyde). Their body cannot break it down because they have a genetic mutation making ALDH2 (enzyme responsible for breaking down acetaldehyde to be non-toxic) less active or inactive. The build up of acetaldehyde triggers a histamine response in the body which causes a whole bunch of nasty symptoms. Let’s dive in:

Alcohol Intolerance Symptoms (You can have any amount of them)

  • Flushing in your face, neck, and/or chest. You become warm and turn pink or red after consuming alcohol.
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat and/or heart palpitations
  • Low blood pressure
  • Pounding headache, fatigue and other hangover-like symptoms
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Diarrhea
  • Worsening pre-existing asthma
  • Red, itchy skin bumps (hives)

Alcohol Allergy Symptoms

  • Nausea
  • Rashes
  • Itchiness
  • Swelling
  • Severe stomach cramps
  • Allergy symptoms are usually more painful and uncomfortable than alcohol intolerance symptoms. In rare cases, if left untreated, an alcohol allergy can be life-threatening.

symptoms of an alcohol intolerance versus an allergy

Is Alcohol Flush Reaction an Allergy or Intolerance?

If you couldn’t tell from the description above, Alcohol Flush Reaction (Asian glow / flush) is an alcohol intolerance. The most common folks who have this genetic disorder are of East Asian Descent, but anyone of any ethnicity can experience it. The symptoms above can help you identify if you have an intolerance or allergy, but the only person that can confirm that for you is your doctor. Please seek all medical advice from your doctor, so you know what you’re working with and how to treat it.

While there is no cure for alcohol intolerance, the one remedy I always recommend is Glowless alcohol flush patches. You can read more about how they work here and why they are much better for you than any antihistamine, antacid, or anti-asian glow pills.