Had a booze-filled evening and your cheeks get all warm and rosy right after? That flushed look some people get after having a glass of rosé or a beer isn’t because they’re embarrassed, but for a medical reason.
As it turns out, becoming red-faced due to alcohol could be an indicator for something serious. Generally, the blood vessels in the face expand and cause redness. The capillaries under facial skin are more plentiful and closer to the surface. When they widen this way, it’s due to a trigger.
When you notice a rosy-faced (and neck) reaction in someone who’s had a drink, it can be due to a condition called alcohol flush reaction. The cause is genetic. Typically, alcohol travels to the liver and goes through a metabolic process to be converted to the chemical acetaldehyde.
After that, acetaldehyde is supposed to change into acetate with the help of an enzyme, and leave the body. Here’s where it gets tricky. Some people don’t have the enzyme needed, and then acetaldehyde builds up in the body, causing facial flushing, nausea, or rapid heart rate. Its dangerous effects are carcinogenic and also cause DNA damage.
But there are actually two variations of the gene that produces the enzyme – one that helps the enzyme do its proper job, and the other where it doesn’t at all. It’s bad enough having one gene with the slacker enzyme, but there are people who have two genes. That means double trouble and those folks really can’t tolerate any alcohol at all, as it’s virtually a poison.
For folks with the one gene, they simply become tolerant to alcohol and acetaldehyde accumulation. They drink, they get flushed, but they keep going with it. Because of this, they are at an increased risk for cancer – specifically, oral, esophageal, or throat cancers.
Alcohol flush reaction is also called “Asian Glow”, referring to the large number of people of Asian descent who turn red because of the body’s response. A study published with NIH explains the gene mutation and that nearly 40 percent of East Asians have a flush response after consuming alcohol.
However, it should be noted that the condition is not limited to Asians. An article in Yale Scientific points out that the enzyme deficiency has also been found in those of Jewish descent. The risk of cancer (esophageal) for those who have the inactive enzyme needed to process acetaldehyde is 6 to 10 times higher.
Watch the video to learn more, and where the gene may have originated. Though there’s not anything one can do to change genetics, curbing alcohol consumption will help reduce the risk of acetaldehyde buildup and cancer. Pay attention to the body if you feel nauseous, have a headache, or rapid heart rate.
Other causes of the facial flush after drinking alcohol may be due to rosacea or allergies. Alcohol can be a trigger for rosacea symptoms. The best way to tell is by visiting a physician to be tested for the enzyme deficiency or another condition. Just be honest about your alcohol intake!
Do you have a tendency to turn red when you drink? Were you aware of “Asian Glow” and its symptoms? Tell us in the comments!
National Rosacea Society