So, why is it that we turn red when we drink alcohol?
Contrary to common belief, people from all races experience an alcohol induced red face reaction, however, about 50% of people of Asian descent experience an alcohol red face reaction after drinking alcohol (a much higher proportion than other races). Because of this, the alcohol red face reaction has often been referred to as ‘Asian flush’ or ‘Asian glow’, and sometimes more technically referred to by scientists as Alcohol Flush Reaction. Whatever we call it, we are referring to the body’s inability to properly break-down alcohol due to an inactive enzyme called “aldehyde dehydrogenase 2″ (ALDH2), which is typically responsible for breaking down “acetaldehyde”, a byproduct of alcohol metabolism. Acetaldehyde is actually toxic, and as a result of your body not being able to properly break it down, it builds up and causes the red flushing that we all have in common. Whilst the red face reaction is probably the most commonly reported symptom among people who experience an alcohol red face reaction, other symptoms often experienced are dizziness, nausea, itchiness, headaches, and an increased pulse rate.
Scientists often refer to this as an alcohol related allergy, however, it is not to be confused with other alcohol allergies that are much serious – i.e. where one experiences seizures, convulsions and unconsciousness after exposure to the slightest amount of alcohol. In contrast, people who experience alcohol red face reaction often report allergic reactions such as feeling flushed after 1 drink of alcohol, more often than not leading to a bright red swollen face, bloodshot eyes, thumping headache, increased pulse rate, and constricted breathing. These symptoms obviously vary with the amount of alcohol consumed, however, rarely escalate to seizures or unconsciousness.