Asian Flush: What Causes It & How To Avoid It

Asian Flush: What Causes It & How To Avoid It

If you suffer from Asian flush syndrome — then you're all too familiar with the associated 'red glow' after consuming alcohol. Commonly seen among Asians of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese descent, this phenomenon is an indication that your body cannot efficiently metabolize alcohol.

In this article, we will explore why does Asian flush occur and more importantly how to avoid it. For a brief introduction, have a look at this awesome video that explains what is an Asian flush.


Why Does It Occur?

If you cannot enjoy a classic cocktail once in a while, based on your reaction, you're probably wondering — what can I do? Although most commonly associated with facial blushing, individuals suffering from Asian flush also experience headaches, nausea, and a rapid heartbeat.

It makes your social events uncomfortable to say the least — but why does this happen?

To better understand this syndrome, we must first focus on how the body metabolizes alcohol. Dependent on two enzymes, this is where the core issues lays. When breaking down alcohol, a normal functioning body will undergo the following:

  1. Alcohol dehydrogenase (ALDH2) converts alcohol into Acetaldehyde — a toxic by-product produced within this metabolizing process.
  1. Acetaldehyde dehydrogenase then breaks Acetaldehyde into harmless compounds.

Based on differences in genetics, approximately 80 percent of Asians experience an overactive production of alcohol dehydrogenase. Meaning, alcohol is broken down into acetaldehyde much more rapidly. In addition, the associated negative response to alcohol is based on the enzyme acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, which is deficient.

In simple terms — this population suffers from a genetic mutation, and the result?

asian flush example

Between 30 and 50 percent of Asians experience Asian flush. Based on their genetics, it takes longer to expel acetaldehyde from the blood
. As this toxic by-product builds up, blood vessels dilate, resulting in a rosy, red face. Although this specific symptom can be embarrassing and cause discomfort, the issues surrounding Asian flush are far more complex and dangerous.

Being more harmful than alcohol, accumulated acetaldehyde results in significant consequences among Asian populace. So, genetics play a key role.

Is It Asian Flush — or Something Else?

If you believe you're experiencing the symptoms of Asian flush, it's important to be aware of other related conditions. Alcohol-induced rosacea, as well as an allergy to alcohol, are two of the most commonly confused conditions. This is why it's important to understand that there can be more than one potential explanation of your "red glow".

There's a misconception that Asian flush and an alcohol allergy are one in the same — but they're not. Often both are associated with alcohol intolerance, but this can be a dangerous mistake. If you are allergic to alcohol, or one of the ingredients used with an alcoholic beverage, you could experience a number of adverse effects — ranging from itching to death. If wrongly diagnosed with Asian flush, as opposed to an alcohol allergy, this could result in a dangerous situation. Individuals may wrongly consume remedies aimed to prevent Asian flush, when in reality, they're suffering from an allergy. If they have the mentality that they can drink more based on the preventative measures put in place, an even more severe reaction can result.

If you're unsure — since the symptoms of both conditions are so similar, it's best to seek the advice of a medical professional. Once you've established that you're redness is due to an Asian flush syndrome, these are some of measures you can take to minimize the affects of alcohol.

How to Avoid Asian Flush Syndrome

There's certainly plenty of information available regarding the cause and consequences of Asian flush — but what about prevention?

At the end of the day, alcohol is deeply rooted in many cultural societies. It is enjoyed during times of celebration and courtship, so do individuals who suffer from Asian flush need to be excluded? The short answer, is no.

As discussed, Asian 'glow' is triggered by acetaldehyde. In order to improve symptoms, this compound needs to be effectively neutralized. Before we get into possible solutions, ask yourself this:

What kind of alcohol are you drinking?

Certain options can worsen symptoms of Asian flush, especially those that contain certain additives. A classic example, are aged spirits — as they generally contain more tannins. This substance is also found in high amounts within red wine. Sulphites are another example — often found in beer and cider.

From spirits to wine, beer to cider — if these all worsen Asian flush, what is there left to enjoy?

The truth is, you can enjoy alcohol, based on the preventative measures you take. Currently, these are some of the best possible tips to reduce symptoms and protect your health:

  1. Take an anti-histamine — Although this may seem like an odd suggestion, histamine is directly related to Asian flush. The same deficient enzyme, ALDH2, is also responsible for processing histamine — a compound involved in immune responses. As histamine builds up, it worsens symptoms, which is why histamine-blockers are recommended. Overall, this solution can lessen the intensity of Asian flush. Please note: When taking these medications, your blood alcohol levels can rise much more rapidly, so please drink responsibly. Also, be aware of the potential risks.
  1. Be selective in what you drink — As mentioned, the type of alcohol you consume can make a significant difference. Make cocktails that include simple ingredients, without the associated additives. More often than not, options such as white wine and champagne served cold, lead to less redness. Sipping on diluted beverages, like spritzers, is also a great option.
  1. Drink plenty of water — Like anyone consuming alcohol, individuals who suffer from Asian flush should consume 1-2 glasses of water before the consumption of alcohol, and continue to sip water between alcoholic beverages.
  1. Take an anti-hangover pillProducts such as Over EZ, help neutralize acetaldehyde while providing beneficial vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Although there is no 'cure' for Asian flush, there are most certainly ways to lessen the adverse effects. Of course, the best possible advice is to drink responsibly and know your body. 

The takeaway: No longer do you need to worry about being excluded. You too can enjoy a social drink — even if you experience Asian flush.


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