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Red Face When Drinking

Ever wondered why some people get a red face when drinking alcohol? Well, find out the reason behind this and much more from the following article.
Does the skin on your face and neck assume reddish hues and appear blotchy whenever you're out partying hard? This is not a very common phenomenon and is brought on by a genetic quirk that is shared by most East Asians. This genetic tweak makes the bodies of people belonging to this particular racial group unable to break down alcohol properly, leading to that red-faced look when drinking accompanied by a nagging hangover which occurs in its worst form in most people who have genetically descended from the East Asian races such as the Chinese, Japanese, Mongolians, Koreans and Taiwanese. For this reason, this post-drinking flush is also known by the names of Asian Glow, Asian Red and Asian Flush! Let's take a look at the biological mechanics that work behind imparting such a flush to skin and how this phenomenon is triggered by alcohol consumption.

What Causes Red Face When Drinking Alcohol?

A group of organic chemical compounds known as aldehydes occur naturally in most sugars and sugar based compounds. Aldehydes are highly reactive and, hence, are not ubiquitously present in all nutrients or biological building blocks. Acetaldehyde is one of the chief aldehydes which is present in moderate quantities in coffee, ripened fruits, bread and is a by-product of plant metabolism. This aldehyde compound is also produced as a result of oxidation of ethanol - the base of all alcoholic beverages. It is this acetaldehyde content of alcohol that is responsible for imparting all the typical symptoms of a standard morning-after hangover. Now, due to the aforementioned genetic glitch in people belonging to East Asian ethnicities, their body is not able to completely break down and metabolize alcohol, leading to acetaldehyde getting accumulated in the body.

A missense genetic mutation, which occurs in the form of a polymorphism in East Asian racial ethnicities and sub-ethnicities, prevents the enzyme Acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2) (which is responsible for breaking down acetaldehyde into acetic acid) from metabolizing acetaldehyde. This same genetic mutation can also cause the alcohol to be metabolized more rapidly, leading to increased levels of acetaldehyde getting released in the body. This accumulation of acetaldehyde leads to the dilation of capillaries, especially in the face, neck and shoulder area, leading to a flushed look and may be accompanied by a hot feel in the reddened regions in case the arteries that run along in the deeper layers of the skin also get dilated. Sometimes, the entire body may get flushed if the person has a pronounced deficiency of the ALDH2 enzyme in his/her body.

How to Prevent Red Face When Drinking

The best way to keep yourself from flushing while drinking is to keep the alcohol consumption level quite low. Some people say that avoiding caffeine or spicy food well before going for a drink also slows down the flushing. You may also decrease the intensity and pace of flushing by slowing down the speed at which alcohol is metabolized so as to delay acetaldehyde from hitting your blood stream. You can do this by eating some high calorie food, preferably something rich in protein or complex carbohydrates, beforehand so that your metabolism slows down as a result of having to break down complex nutrients.

Medical experts also suggest taking low doses of antacids (such as Ranitidine or Famotidine) at least an hour before grabbing those drinks to control flushing to a large extent. However, do not try this without soliciting the advise of a qualified medical expert. You must understand that this red face phenomenon while drinking is a genetic thing and is due to your body being either deficient in the ALDH2 enzyme or your body preventing keeping this enzyme from doing its job. Hence, prevention is the only way to go and there is, as such, no red-face-when-drinking cure as of now that can completely do away with this condition.

While it has been noted that people who experience flushing when consuming alcoholic beverages are about 10 times more likely to develop cancer of the esophagus as a result of excessive drinking, there's a positive flip side to it. This alcohol-triggered reddening of the skin acts as a discouraging factor for the person whose alcohol intake gets limited in order to avoid the irritating physical ordeal of such flushing. Also, studies have shown that this same reason makes subjects prone to alcohol-induced flushing less susceptible to become victims of alcoholism and drinking disorders. In fact, certain medications that are administered for treating alcoholism contain acetaldehyde dehydrogenase inhibitors that increase the levels of acetaldehyde levels in the blood, bringing on the much undesired reddening of the skin, compelling the subject to limit his/her alcohol intake.
By Ishani Chatterjee Shukla
Last Updated: 9/22/2011
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