Drinking alcoholic beverages is a way to relax, let loose and have fun! However, for some it is exceedingly unpleasant due to their body’s adverse reaction to alcohol. One such reaction is called alcohol flush; in which drinking even small amounts causes a person’s face or skin to flush and in some cases feel warm and itchy.
Alcohol flush is encoded by the gene ALDH2, which stands for Aldehyde Dehydrogenase 2. This is an important enzyme involved in alcohol metabolism and is responsible for the breakdown of a toxic compound called Acetaldehyde.
This is how it works. When you consume alcohol your body, more specifically your liver, first breaks it down into acetaldehyde, which is a toxic substance. The enzyme Aldehyde Dehydrogenase 2 then converts this toxin into a non-toxic substance acetic acid, an essential component of vinegar. The problem with people who get alcohol flush lays here because it is this enzyme that is not being produced, therefore causing the acetaldehyde to accumulate in the blood. The cause for this is a genetic variant or mutation in the ALDH2 gene. Simply put this means the gene does not function correctly, thus not producing enough of the enzyme to breakdown the poisonous byproduct- acetaldehyde.
Alcohol Flush is a combination of symptoms, most notably the red flushing of the face or skin. Other symptoms include an increased heart rate, overheating sensation, headache, dizziness, nausea, and intensified hangovers. This reaction is a sign of damage occurring in the body, leading to inflammation, oxidative cell damage, and symptoms listed above. Many people who experience this may think it is a harmless effect that is more cosmetic than anything else. However, studies show people who have this genetic variant and continue to consume alcohol are at an increased risk of developing hypertension, stomach ulcers and even esophageal and stomach cancers.
Those who carry this inactive version of the gene are more likely to get alcohol flush and all the other negative effects when consuming even very little alcohol. Unfortunately, there is no cure for alcohol flush and those who have this genetic predisposition are recommended to avoid alcohol completely.
- Health Works. (2014). Do You Turn Red After Half a Beer? You Could Have Alcohol Flush Reaction.
Retrieved from http://www.healthworks.my/alcohol-flush-syndrome/.
- ALDH2 Deficiency. (2018). Information on ALDH2 Deficiency and What It Means To You.
Retrieved from http://aldh2deficiency.com/.