March 25th, 2009
03:48 PM ET

Why the red face? Alcohol flush could mean increased cancer risk

By Madison Park
Writer/Producer CNNhealth.com

Immediately after taking a few sips of an alcoholic drink, I have an almost cartoonish reaction. I burn up and turn scarlet – my whole face, forearms and neck.

My response to alcohol is so strong that a martini is enough to make me vomit, and half a bottle of beer makes me ill. Don’t even get me started about wine.

The facial flush, also known as “the Asian glow,” is a fairly common reaction to alcohol amongst East Asians. They turn red, feel nauseated, get swollen and their heartbeats race. I liken the experience to turning into a bright red disco ball. Some people get so embarrassed about this reaction to alcohol, they pop in Pepcid AC, which many people say helps mask the red face.

Researchers from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and Japan's Kurihama Alcohol Center found that individuals who get the redness after drinking alcohol are at greater risk for developing esophageal cancer.

About eight percent of the world’s population has this genetic condition (Thanks, Mom and Dad), where the body lacks an enzyme that properly breaks down alcohol.

This missing enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 metabolizes alcohol into acetate, which is non-toxic - so the remaining 92 percent of the world can drink with normal facial color.

But when I drink, the alcohol turns into acetaldehyde, which is a chemical that causes DNA damage and has cancer-promoting effects. That causes the facial flush, according to scientists from NIAAA.

Researchers whose work was published this week in PLoS Medicine say that people who have the facial flush and continue to drink are six to 10 times more likely to develop esophageal cancer, compared with someone without the genetic condition who is drinking the same amount.

And esophageal cancer carries a five-year survival rate of 12 to 31 percent.

For Lent, I gave up alcohol and I don’t miss the headaches, redness, or vomiting. So this might become permanent, because I think my body is trying to tell me something.

Do you have strange reactions to alcohol? How do you deal with it? And has this deterred you from drinking?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

soundoff (683 Responses)
  1. Nissan Luxury Van Repair Shop

    Good post. I will be going through a few of these issues as well..


    June 29, 2021 at 14:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Van Repair Near Me


    June 29, 2021 at 15:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Authorized Mercedes Sprinter Service Centers Near Me

    You've made some decent points there. I looked on the web to find out more about the issue and found most individuals will go along with your views on this web site.


    June 29, 2021 at 17:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. 마사지출장

    It's a shame you don't have a donate button! I'd without a doubt donate to this outstanding blog!
    I suppose for now i'll settle for book-marking and adding your RSS feed
    to my Google account. I look forward to fresh updates and will talk about
    this website with my Facebook group. Talk soon!

    June 29, 2021 at 19:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. RV Repair Shops Near My Location

    This is a topic which is near to my heart... Thank you! Where are your contact details though?


    June 29, 2021 at 20:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Wheelchair Van Repair


    June 29, 2021 at 21:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Gmc High Top Van Repair Shop Near Me


    June 30, 2021 at 04:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Mercedes Benz Sprinter Chassis Repair


    June 30, 2021 at 05:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. RV Repairs Near My Location


    June 30, 2021 at 06:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Sprinter Van Service

    Spot on with this write-up, I honestly believe that this site needs much more attention. Iíll probably be back again to see more, thanks for the advice!


    June 30, 2021 at 09:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. RV Repair Santa Ana


    June 30, 2021 at 10:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Conversion Van Interior Repair

    Excellent article. I am experiencing many of these issues as well..


    June 30, 2021 at 11:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Nearby RV Repair

    Hi there! I simply wish to offer you a big thumbs up for your excellent info you have got right here on this post. I'll be coming back to your web site for more soon.


    June 30, 2021 at 13:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. RV Repair Near Me

    Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you penning this write-up and the rest of the website is really good.


    June 30, 2021 at 13:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Online Advertising Company


    June 30, 2021 at 13:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. SEO Marketing Experts


    June 30, 2021 at 14:02 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.