The short answer is, it’s embarrassing. Turning red in the face when you drink alcohol (i.e. alcohol flush reaction) is not only embarrassing but also highly inconvenient for someone trying to hold down a respectable social life in a society that hails alcohol as the goto tonic for nearly every social occasion imaginable.
To get started with understanding alcohol flush reaction, check out this great video put together by our friends at Vox:
If you can relate to Joss’ experience with alcohol flushing then read on, because an in depth knowledge of your condition is the first step to overcoming it.
Why is your face turning red when you drink alcohol?
As covered in the video above, the main culprit of alcohol flushing is a nasty little by-product of the alcohol metabolism process called acetaldehyde. People who don’t have alcohol flush reaction can easily break this toxic substance down into non-toxic acetate with an enzyme in their liver called ALDH2.
Here’s a rough diagram of alcohol metabolism in a healthy liver:
As you can see, the ALDH2 enzyme is converting the acetaldehyde to acetate before it enters the bloodstream. This is important because it is the accumulation of acetaldehyde that causes alcohol flush reaction.
You flush red when you drink alcohol because you have a deficient ALDH2 enzyme. Here’s what your liver looks like when you drink alcohol:
As you can see, the deficient ALDH2 enzyme is failing to break down the acetaldehyde fast enough. What happens then is this toxic substance accumulates and makes its way into your bloodstream. This causes your body to release histamines, which in turn provokes a variety of alcohol flush reaction symptoms such as:
- Erythema in the face, neck and upper body (skin redness)
- Tachycardia (increased heart rate)
Important factors affecting the severity of your alcohol flushing
You might be unaware that the intensity of your alcohol flushing can have a lot to do with what you drink. This is because some types of alcohol can contain compounds that cause your body to release more histamines and therefore make your flushing a lot worse than it has to be.
Some examples are:
- Mixed drinks containing preservative 211
If you want to find why some drinks make you flush more than others, check out our article Smart Drink Choices For Alcohol Flush Reaction.