Why alcohol turns red and what to do about it

(ORDO NEWS) — If you are one of those whose body does not cope well with even small doses of alcohol, you probably get pink cheeks from a glass of wine or a mug of beer. Why does the face turn red after alcohol? Can something be done about it? The answers to these questions are in our material.

Why does my face turn red after drinking alcohol?

From a scientific point of view, the causes of facial redness after alcohol are quite easy to explain. In the liver, alcohol is first converted by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase into the toxic substance acetaldehyde. The acetaldehyde is then, fortunately with the help of another enzyme, aldehyde dehydrogenase, converted to harmless acetic acid.

Alas, not everyone by nature got the ability to produce aldehyde dehydrogenase in large quantities. Those who are lucky have never experienced a hangover, those who are less fortunate – most of them among the Chinese, Koreans and Japanese, for example – hardly tolerate even small doses of alcohol.

Such people inherit from their father and mother one mutant copy of the gene encoding the enzyme, which causes their liver to produce a non-functional version of aldehyde dehydrogenase.

This is why the face turns red after taking alcohol. If only one of the parents had the mutated gene, the child’s liver enzyme would work, but a hundred times weaker than if both copies were normal.

Carriers of defective copies of the gene encoding this enzyme do not experience a hangover the next morning, but almost immediately after they have a drink; the symptoms are well known – nausea, headache, weakness and redness of the skin of the face.

Perhaps the reddening of the face from alcohol is the most harmless of the consequences of a low production of aldehyde dehydrogenase by the body. This effect also has positive consequences: in Asian countries, people drink much less, and therefore die less often from alcohol-related diseases.

Why alcohol turns red and what to do about it 2The authors of a study published in 2017 in the NSBI found a link between facial redness from alcohol and the risk of cancer. For example, East Asian men with faces that turn red from alcohol have a higher risk of developing cancer of the throat and esophagus compared to those whose faces do not change color when consumed.

What should I do if my face turns red after drinking alcohol?

There are drugs that can reduce facial redness, often referred to in the media as antihistamines. It would seem that here is the answer to the questions of what to do if the face turns red from alcohol.

But not all antihistamines are suitable for combating a rush of blood to the face after the first glass. Anti-acid reflux drugs are suitable: they block the H2-histamine receptors of the cells of the gastric mucosa, which trigger the release of acid in the stomach.

They have few side effects, but they will relieve only the most innocuous symptom of aldehyde dehydrogenase deficiency. In addition, it is worth remembering that any drugs can be used only after consulting a doctor.

In general, people with aldehyde dehydrogenase deficiency should not mask redness with medications, but drink in moderation, even if your measure is very small.

Better yet, avoid alcohol altogether. After all, as we mentioned at the beginning of the material, the causes of facial redness after alcohol are deep. The external factor in the form of facial redness is only a small part of the negative effect of alcohol on the body.


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