Asian Glow, More Than a Cosmetic Problem: Impact of ALDH2 Deficiency & Acetaldehyde
Why is Asian Glow bad for me?
About a billion people worldwide suffer from Asian Glow – the root of the problem is ALDH2 Deficiency, which affects 40% of East Asians. We often view Asian Glow as an annoying cosmetic problem that takes away the joy of drinking alcohol. We look around and see the rest of the world drinking lots of beer, wine and cocktails – their jubilation growing with each glass downed. In the meantime, our own Asian Glow grows redder with each sip as we slow our drinking pace in an attempt to achieve a “happy buzz”, knowing that we are always just a few sips away from dizziness, headache and nausea too.
What is ALDH2 Deficiency?
ALDH2 stands for aldehyde dehydrogenase 2, which is an important enzyme in the liver responsible for breaking down toxins in our body, primarily acetaldehyde. ALDH2 Deficiency is a genetic mutation passed through the generations from parents to their children. When we have ALDH2 Deficiency, our ALDH2 enzymes have a weakened ability to metabolize acetaldehyde into harmless acetic acid (i.e., vinegar) before leaving the body.
Acetaldehyde is a toxic byproduct of the ethanol in alcohol. Asian Glow occurs when there is a rapid build-up of acetaldehyde in the body due to our weakened ability to quickly break it down. Sometimes the impact is felt immediately, even with the first couple of sips of alcohol. Facial redness, body flushing, inflammation, rising temperature, headache and rapid heart rate are common symptoms. The intensity of symptoms can vary depending on whether a person has the single mutation or double mutation version of ALDH2 Deficiency. Those with the double mutation make up about 10% of the ALDH2 Deficient population and have almost no ability to break down acetaldehyde and can suffer from severe Asian glow.
How Can I Tell if I Have ALDH2 Deficiency?
The most precise way to determine whether you have ALDH2 Deficiency is to take a consumer genetics test. Comprehensive consumer genetics tests are costly, but give a lot of helpful general health information. Another way is to identify whether your parents suffer from Asian Glow and ALDH2 Deficiency. ALDH2 Deficiency is a dominant gene mutation and the population affected will likely grow in numbers as it passes through the generations. When one parent has ALDH2 Deficiency, there is a greater than 50% chance the children will also have the condition. When both parents have ALDH2 Deficiency, the chance of their children having it increases to over 75%.
How Do Acetaldehyde and ALDH2 Deficiency Impact Health?
Acetaldehyde is a toxic carcinogen and can cause long term damage in our bodies as it circulates and causes inflammation. Since people with ALDH2 Deficiency have a limited ability to quickly metabolize acetaldehyde, they suffer from higher long term rates of esophageal cancer (by 2x), liver cirrhosis (by 3x), osteoporosis (by 2x) and Alzheimer’s (by 1.5x). It is important to raise this awareness among the ALDH2 Deficient population so we can protect ourselves from acetaldehyde and the modern environment.
How Can We Protect Our Health?
To cope with ALDH2 Deficiency and Asian Glow, many of us avoid drinking altogether or drink very moderately and infrequently. (This is recommended.) Limiting alcohol consumption is a good idea, however, some of us will still choose to drink alcohol. Some even go to an opposite extreme by suffering through the Asian Glow to build an alcohol tolerance by drinking a lot and regularly. (This is not recommended.) An urban myth exists that taking antacids or antihistamines reduces Asian Glow. (Not recommended.) Although it can reduce redness, combining alcohol with antacids or antihistamines can damage the stomach lining and does not address the problem of acetaldehyde accumulation.
But is avoiding alcohol good enough? The problem is that acetaldehyde is found everywhere in the modern environment - in alcohol, air pollution, cigarette and cannabis smoke, coffee, and high-sugar diets. Since people with ALDH2 Deficiency are unable to break down acetaldehyde efficiently, we may want to consider taking a daily vitamin supplement that specifically targets acetaldehyde alleviation. One example of this is Essential AD2, which when taken daily and before drinking alcohol, has been clinically proven to reduce acetaldehyde in the body.
It’s important to note there is no cure for ALDH2 Deficiency since it’s a genetic condition of our liver enzymes. All we can do is mitigate the health impact. When taking Essential AD2 daily and an extra dose 45 minutes before drinking alcohol, people's experience may still vary widely depending on the strength of their liver enzymes to begin with. Those with double mutation ALDH2 Deficiency may still experience severe Asian Glow symptoms because they have almost no ability to metabolize acetaldehyde. People with the single mutation may find they can have at least one or two drinks over few a hours, with flushing and redness reduced sooner as a result of regular use of Essential AD2. Most importantly, the damaging acetaldehyde accumulation in our body subsides faster. This is why binge drinking is not recommended in order to avoid rapid acetaldehyde accumulation.
For those of us who want to take healthy living to the next level, a daily supplement such as Essential AD2 to alleviate acetaldehyde accumulation is a good solution to consider.