Asian Flush & Alcohol Allergy: A Real Social Nightmare.

Published: 01st June 2010
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Asian flush and alcohol allergy are two disorders that affect nearly 50% of Asian people. What these disorders have in common is that they both come about as a result of drinking alcohol and therefore can be very annoying for the affected individuals. This article examines the differences between Asian flush and alcohol allergy and also briefly touches on the existence of possible cures.

It is quite common for people to experience a variety of adverse reactions to drinking alcohol.  Some of these include a red and swollen face, headaches, hives, itchiness, nausea, and in more severe cases, even seizures and unconsciousness.  More often than not, people who experience one or more of these side effects tend to categorize themselves as suffering from Asian flush or some kind of alcohol allergy.  The two terms are often used interchangeably, and whilst this is often discouraged by medical practitioners, some geneticists have even referred to Asian flush as a genetic form of alcohol allergy resulting from an enzyme deficiency.

Research has indicated that as many as 50% of Asians experience a red face after drinking alcohol.  This is commonly referred to amongst sufferers as "Asian flush" or "Asian glow", and by some scientists as "Alcohol Flush Reaction".  The main cause of Asian flush stems from the body's inability to sufficiently break-down alcohol.  The reason why the body can't break down the alcohol is because people who have Asian flush have an inactive enzyme called 'aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2)'.  This enzyme is the one that is normally responsible for breaking down 'acetaldehyde', a toxic byproduct that is produced when the body tried to break down alcohol.  As result of the body not being able to properly break it down the acetaldehyde, the toxin accumulates and causes all kinds of reactions such as headaches, nausea, itching, hives and most commonly, the red face or Asian flush.  Interestingly, these are very similar to symptoms of mild allergy.

Scientists don't know precisely why the enzyme is more likely to be inactive in Asian people, but some studies have shown that the enzyme deficiency that causes Asian flush is genetic and has the potential to be passed down by both parents.  According to the weight of medical opinion, there isn't much one can do to fix their enzyme deficiency.  However, there are several remedies available on the internet that have been proven to be successful in treating Asian Flush.

In contrast to Asian flush and other related toxic reactions to acetaldehyde discussed above, allergic reactions to alcohol are relatively uncommon.  In people with extremely severe alcohol allergies, as little a mouthful of beer is enough to provoke extremely severe rashes, difficulties breathing, stomach cramps, seizures and even unconsciousness.  Mild alcohol allergy sufferers often report the same types of symptoms as people with Asian flush - i.e. red flushed face and neck, throbbing headache, irritated and itchy skin, hived and skin blotching, and difficulty breathing, including aggravation of existing asthmatic disorders.

When the liver breaks down alcohol and converts it into acetaldehyde (discussed above), the toxic acetaldehyde is then converted by the body into non-toxic acetic acid (vinegar).  Like Asian flush sufferers, the problem for alcohol allergy sufferers occurs when the alcohol cannot be broken down properly.  This is because alcoholic beverages contain substances other than ethanol such as yeast, hop, grape, barley, wheat, natural food chemicals, wood derived substances and preservatives.  extremely bad alcohol allergies have been described in people who experience allergic reactions to proteins within grapes, yeast, hops, barley and wheat and some of the other abovementioned substances.  It should be noted that these people are not sensitive to the alcohol itself, and accurately speaking, do not suffer from an 'alcohol' allergy.  In addition to this, egg and seafood proteins are often used as fining agents to remove fine particles from the alcoholic liquid in the production process.  These may also be the catalyst for the allergic reactions, rather than the alcohol itself.

In addition to this, egg and seafood proteins are used regularly as fining agents to remove fine particles from the alcoholic liquid in the production process and these may also be the catalyst for the allergic reactions, rather than the alcohol itself.

So... Is Asian Flush an Alcohol Allergy?

There are many medical sources that claim that mere facial flushing by itself is not an alcohol allergy.  There are also many medical sources that state that most doctors are incorrect in saying that Asian flush is not an alcohol allergy and that if you speak to a geneticist they will tell you that Asian flush is an allergic reaction that is a result of a genetically inherited enzyme deficiency.  Whatever the classification, it does seem that sufferers of Asian flush and alcohol allergy both suffer very similar side effects.  Furthermore, it also seems that these side effects are predominantly caused by a deficiency in the alcohol break-down process whereby the body, for whatever reason, has trouble converting the toxic acetaldehyde into non-toxic vinegar.

A Cure?

Given the similarities, a cure for both Asian glow and alcohol allergy will be one that aids the process whereby the body converts alcohol into acetaldehyde and then into vinegar.

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