If you turn red after a drink or two, that’s not your blush coming on, but the Asian Flush.
Also known as the Alcohol Flush Syndrome, people who turn red after drinking alcohol are more susceptible to cancer if they do not limit their alcohol intake, but most continue with unhealthy drinking habits.
A survey conducted with over 200 Nanyang Technological University (NTU) students revealed that more than half of them have the Asian Flush.
While the Health Promotion Board (HPB) recommends a daily maximum intake of a single alcoholic beverage for women, and two for men, results from the same NTU survey showed that 48 per cent of Asian Flushers overestimated their drinking limits, defining excessive drinking as seven standard alcoholic drinks and above.
These are the findings of four final-year undergraduates from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at NTU, and they have since embarked on a campaign, ‘Red AF’, to raise awareness and educate young adults on the Asian Flush.
Asian Flushers suffer from a genetic deficiency where the enzyme responsible for breaking down acetaldehyde, a cancer-causing agent converted from alcohol, is less efficient. The flush forms when the body detects acetaldehyde and the blood vessels dilate.
“Patients with the Asian Flush condition subject themselves to a higher risk of gastrointestinal cancers should they continue to consume alcohol,” said Dr Ong Lizhen, Associate Consultant in the Department of Laboratory Medicine at National.
Despite the risks, few manage to adhere to HPB’s guidelines due to social pressure or simply because they do not feel the onset of the alcohol – a subjective way to define one’s drinking limits.
And this does not bode well for the Asian Flushers as alcohol consumption beyond the guidelines qualifies as binge-drinking, increasing their risk of cancers and other health issues like peptic ulcer disease and hypertension.
To put things into perspective, an Asian Flusher who consumes two beers a day is 10 times more likely to develop oesophageal cancer, as compared to a non-Asian Flusher who drinks the same amount, says Dr Ong.
The hard truth? Once an Asian Flusher, always an Asian Flusher. Drinking more alcohol is not going to help the flush go away. So it might be best to cut down on the alcohol.
Text: Claudia Tan / Shape Singapore / February 2018
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