These days it often sounds irritatingly alarmist whenever something is linked to cancer. But this is absolutely not one of those cases. If you flush red when you drink alcohol then it’s time to put down your beer for one second and read what numerous government agencies around the world are trying to warn you about.
Before you do that, take a quick look at this Youtube video by our friends at Curiosity180 that accurately breaks down the heightened cancer risk facing people with alcohol flush reaction.
As you can see, this is a widely known risk that ironically not a lot of people with alcohol flush reaction know about. Let’s take a look at how recognised this risk actually is:
In our article titled, NIH warns Asian flush sufferers of cancer risk, we broke down some of the more relevant sections of the National Institute of Health’s Press Release warning people with ALDH2 deficiency (i.e. alcohol flush reaction) of their heightened risk of cancer.
This landmark press release is based largely on a study conducted by scientists of the NIAAA titled, The Alcohol Flushing Response: An Unrecognized Risk Factor for Esophageal Cancer from Alcohol Consumption.
In this study scientists concluded that alcohol consumers with a deficient ALDH2 enzyme are 6 to 10 times more likely to get esophagael cancer than someone with a fully functioning ALDH2 enzyme who drinks the same amount of alcohol.
Furthermore, it also showed that people with a deficient ALDH2 enzyme who drink 33 or more standard drinks a week are 89 times more likely to get esophagael cancer than non-drinkers.
As for one reason why this could be, the researchers stated the following:
Acetaldehyde is responsible for the facial flushing and other unpleasant effects that ALDH2-deficient individuals experience when they drink alcohol. Importantly, there is now direct evidence that ALDH2-deficient individuals experience higher levels of acetaldehyde-related DNA and chromosomal damage than individuals with fully active ALDH2 when they consume equivalent amounts of alcohol, providing a likely mechanism for the increased cancer risk.
Here the researchers point to the DNA damaging effects of acetaldehyde as one of the possible reasons for it increasing the risk of cancer in people with alcohol flush reaction.
Confirmed by The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, or the IARC, released a press release in 2009 that strengthens its existing findings on various carcinogenic (cancer causing) personal habits and household exposures.
In doing so, the agency re-iterated the position of the NIH by making specific mention of the cancer risks facing people with alcohol flush reaction who are exposed to too much acetaldehyde.
In their words:
Alcohol consumption results in exposure to acetaldehyde, present in the beverage itself and also formed when the body breaks down alcohol. Alcohol is metabolised to acetaldehyde, (which is a genotoxic chemical), then this acetaldehyde is further metabolised to acetate (a harmless chemical) by enzymes known as aldehyde dehydrogenases (ALDH). A large proportion of people of east-Asian origin worldwide (up to 30% in some populations) has an inactive enzyme (known as ALDH2*2) that has only about 10% residual enzymatic activity. Carriers of the inactive enzyme are extremely slow to metabolise acetaldehyde, as a result, they experience higher internal levels of acetaldehyde and have much higher risks of oesophageal cancer and cancers of the head and neck compared with individuals with the active enzyme. The Working Group concluded that acetaldehyde associated with alcohol consumption is carcinogenic to humans (Group 1) and confirmed the classification in Group 1 of alcohol consumption and of ethanol in alcoholic beverages.