You went out this weekend and after having just one drink your face turned red, your heart raced, you got a headache and a feeling of dizziness took over your body. It's possible that this wasn't the only time it happened to you. In fact, it probably happens every time you try alcohol.
This reaction that causes some people to turn red when drinking alcohol is called Alcohol Flush Reaction (AFR), which means 'alcohol flushing reaction' and it happens to around 500 million people around the world. The reason, as revealed by the study The Genetics of Alcohol Metabolization carried out by Indiana University, is in the genes.
When we drink alcohol, our body carries out different mechanisms to metabolize it, according to a study by the Director of the Division of Metabolism and Health Effects of the American Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Samir Zakhari.
The first phase of the process occurs in the stomach and comes from an enzyme called 'Alcohol Dehydrogenase (ADH)'. This is responsible for oxidizing alcohol and transforming it into acetaldehyde, a toxic substance for our body. The acetaldehyde then passes to the liver. There another enzyme - 'Aldehyde Dehydrogenase (ALDH2)' - breaks down the acetaldehyde particles, converts them into acetate and subsequently into Carbon Dioxide and Water.
Turning red when drinking alcohol and experiencing the rest of the symptoms - headache, nausea and increased heart rate - occurs because, according to the Indiana University study, one of the steps in this process fails due to a genetic disorder.
The second enzyme, the one responsible for transforming acetaldehyde into acetate, does not work and, therefore, our body cannot expel the toxic substance. Then, our body fills with acetaldehyde causing the blood vessels to dilate and our skin to turn red.
Another study, which has reached the same conclusions as that of Indiana University, also points out that there are differences between different ethnicities. Most people who suffer from this problem are from East Asia or of Asian descent.
How to avoid it
If you are part of those 500 million people to whom this happens in the world, the best thing you can do is not drink alcohol - because to date there is no way to combat it. But, as we know that you may have a drink from time to time, we give you some tips to relieve the symptoms:
- Drink moderately.
- Opt for drinks with a lower amount of alcohol.
- Eat well before drinking and accompany the drink with some food.
- Drink plenty of water and other non-alcoholic drinks.