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Why Do Asians Get ‘Asian Glow?’ Hint: It’s Your Genes

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asian glowDear legal drinkers,

Do you turn beet red after a single glass of wine? Ever develop rashes with just a few sips? We feel you. Having the “Asian flush” or the “Asian glow” is often embarrassing and uncomfortable, but you’re not alone. (There’s even an online “Asian Glow” community to share your frustrations).

I remember the first time I drank alcohol — I immediately turned the color of a tomato and would feel sudden bursts of anxiousness. This reaction to alcohol is common among Asians, especially East Asians. While it may be a joke to some people, it can be serious as it’s a result of an acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2) enzyme deficiency. To put it simply, when you drink alcohol, your liver breaks down the chemicals in the alcohol, but people who lack the ALDH2 enzyme are unable to process it. It’s similar to people who are lactose intolerant and can’t digest milk and other dairy products because they lack the enzyme lactase. Because approximately 50 percent of Asians lack this enzyme, we experience dizziness, nausea, body rash, an increased heart rate and headaches when drinking alcohol.

If you think drinking more alcohol will build up your tolerance, it can actually make your condition worse. Researchers even recently revealed how that this condition may be linked to an increased risk for cancer of the esophagus.

The best solution to this issue is to stop drinking alcohol entirely. Some people suggest taking an anti-heartburn tablet or aspirin before drinking, but it’s no guarantee that these medications will alleviate your condition or prevent it from emerging. So if you turn even the slightest bit of red after a few sips of alcohol, you may want to restrict your intake. It’s best to consult with your doctor about what you can do to treat these symptoms if you’re keen on drinking with friends. But for now, I’d consider being the designated driver.

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