While many of us enjoy a drink or two, some people experience a warm, red flush on their cheeks and skin when they consume alcohol. In more extreme cases, it can even lead to itching of the skin and feeling dizzy and nauseous. This is commonly referred to as alcohol flush. People who suffer from this alcohol flush reaction often feel very embarrassed and sometimes even avoid drinking alcohol.
So, why does your face turn red when you drink alcohol? Why do some people react to alcohol in this way while others don’t have to worry about turning the colour of a tomato?
What exactly is alcohol flush?
When you drink alcohol your body produces enzymes known as aldehyde dehydrogenase that convert the toxins produced from the oxidisation of the alcohol (these are known as acetaldehyde) into harmless acids. Normally, this process ensures your body can get rid of that nasty acetaldehyde.
Unfortunately, there are some people who do not produce efficient enzymes and therefore the acetaldehyde toxins do not get processed quickly and remain in the body for longer. These toxins are poisonous and the body reacts by turning your skin red. It can also produce other symptoms such as:
- A rapid heartbeat
Why does it affect some people and not others?
Whether or not you are affected by alcohol flush reaction comes down to a few different factors. Let's take a look...
The primary cause of alcohol flush reaction is all down to your DNA and a gene called ALDH2. It is this gene’s job to produce the enzymes that process the acetaldehyde toxins. Lucky people will have ALDH2 genes that efficiently metabolise the toxins, while the less fortunate have genes that produce inactive enzymes that slow down the metabolism process.
Scientists estimate that there are at least 540 million people with an ALDH2 deficiency, which is about 8 percent of the world population. But people of Japanese, Chinese, and Korean descent are more likely than others to experience alcohol flush reaction. Scientists aren't sure why certain populations are more susceptible to this, but it's genetic and can be passed on by one or both parents.
Volume or type of alcohol
Is red wine more likely to make you red in the face than a glass of white? Research actually says that this is the case, but it's not the only culprit. Any type of alcohol can cause alcohol flush reaction, but the more you drink, the more likely the reaction is to occur.
Some people might experience alcohol flush reaction when they first start to drink alcohol, and as they get older the reaction gets less severe.
How can alcohol flush affect your health?
As well as skin redness and allergy-type reactions, alcohol flush can affect your weight if you regularly drink a lot, especially if you drink sugary alcoholic drinks. When you combine alcohol with sugars and other added ingredients, the calorie count can quickly rise.
So, if your ability to metabolise alcohol is low, your body will struggle to deal with alcohol. This means you’re much more likely to start storing fat due to increased blood sugar levels and calorie intake. Slowing down your rate and frequency of alcohol and choosing low-sugar alcohol (spirits with sugar-free mixers) should help to reduce any side effects associated with drinking alcohol.
For people with the genetic alcohol flush variant, they'll be at greater risk of the negative health consequences of smoking. This is because their bodies can't break down acetaldehyde normally. This toxic substance is found in cigarette smoke. So, when people with alcohol flush reaction smoke, the acetaldehyde builds up in their system.
Are there any treatments?
The good news is that next time you turn red in the face while drinking a gin and tonic, you can tell your friends it isn’t you, it’s your genes! The not so good news is that you can’t change your genes and there are very few proven treatments to alcohol flush.
The most effective solution is to not drink, and if you have very serious reactions to alcohol this may be the best option. Some people find that their symptoms are reduced if they take antihistamines, however as there can also be negative effects when you combine these with alcohol - it is not recommended.
Assess your risk of alcohol flush reaction
Understanding your genetic makeup can give you a better insight into how your body functions and why. By doing genetic testing and learning more about your DNA, you can see whether or not you're likely to be susceptible to alcohol flush.
An Evergreen Life DNA testing kit will provide you with everything you need to know about your genes that are affecting your body’s ability to process alcohol. Our DNA testing kits can help you learn more about aspects of your diet, fitness, metabolism and skin. Find out more and order your kit today!