I was minding my own business when I stumbled upon this interesting research. What? On top of various types of cancer, we’re also prone to Alzheimer’s disease if we consume too much alcohol? Just because we got the short end of the stick in the gene pool lottery?
This revelation prompted me to research further for more information about Asian glow and alcohol. After what feels like an intense crash course in Chemistry and Molecular Biology, here’s what I gather about the adverse relationship between Asian glow and alcohol.
The real reason alcohol causes Asian glow
I wrote a condensed explanation of ALDH2 enzyme mutation on my previous post, but let me expand it a bit here. In a nutshell, the way our bodies process anything we consume and turn them into energy and/or building blocks is by breaking them down to components or chemicals needed by our bodies. They do this by utilizing various enzymes that are produced by their respective glands.
ALDH2 is an enzyme that is encoded in our genes. What it means is that the enzyme’s template is contained within our ALDH2 genes, which is then utilized by the gland to produce the ALDH2 enzyme. This enzyme is used to break down the toxic acetaldehyde we get from alcohol to the non-toxic form, acetate.
Why is it called a mutation, then? Because, while Caucasians typically have two types of isozymes (enzymes derived from a gene), as much as 50% of East Asian-descended individuals only have one type of isozyme, which is the cytosolic enzyme.
In short, half of us don’t have what it takes to successfully break down acetaldehyde into acetate because of this missing isozyme.
The risk of alcohol poisoning for people with Asian glow
What happens when you have mutated ALDH2 genes, you ask? Well, since you can’t really break acetaldehyde fast enough, they will pile up in your liver. Eventually, you will end up with symptoms such as nausea, palpitation, headache and the signature Asian glow.
In the long run, you will develop more serious illnesses such as upper digestive system cancers or, as the research I mentioned above revealed, Alzheimer’s disease. Ironically, antihistamine that is used as one of the solutions to combat Asian glow oftentimes backfires and causes adverse reactions such as sedation, dry mouth, blurred vision, to even stomach cancer, skin cancer and esophageal cancer.
The prognosis of people with ALDH2 mutation
While there is currently no cure for ALDH2 mutation, one research theorized the possibility of gene therapy to correct said mutation. The idea is to perform a “one-time administration of an AAV serotype rh.10 gene transfer vector expressing the coding sequence of the normal human ALDH2”.
Despite the intention of this research, there was a debate on whether a cure should be made at all as it only promotes excessive drinking.
I personally don’t think it’s wise to risk your health by using unfounded methods to mitigate your body condition.
For responsible people out there who prefer lighthearted drinks, there is always a handy patch to help you in all kinds of social situation.