If you’ve experienced it, you’re familiar with the dreaded “Asian glow:” One drink in and already your face is as red as a tomato, your body is hot and uncomfortable and you’re feeling dizzy and sleepy.
Alcohol flush reaction can happen to anyone of any background, but it’s especially common among Asian people, which is why it’s commonly known as “Asian flush” or “Asian glow.” By one estimate, it affects 36 percent of East Asians, including people of Japanese, Chinese and Korean descent.
Thanks to an inherited deficiency in the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2), people who get the glow aren’t able to efficiently process alcohol. The acetaldehyde in alcohol doesn’t break down and instead, accumulates in the body, triggering an allergic reaction. The result is all those fun hangover-esque symptoms: a rapid heartbeat, headache, flushing.
To combat this effect ― and prevent their bosses from thinking they’re wasted during that celebratory Happy Hour ― many people who know they get the glow pop an antihistamine like Zantac or Pepcid AC, which can reduce the appearance of glow.
Now, there might be another solution: A vodka that’s accruing a word-of-mouth reputation for helping to counteract the flush.
Ving Vodka is an organic, gluten-free, kale, lemon and cucumber-based vodka that is marketed as histamine and sulfite-free. On the official site, Ving creator Flo Vinger says she’s experienced some terrible headaches from sulfites in alcohol, so it was important to create a vodka that reduced this common allergen. Incidentally, it may prevent flushing.
Acting off a tip from a bartender, the team over at BuzzFeed video recently put the vodka to the test.
After years of taking antihistamines to prevent redness, the BuzzFeed crew said they were excited to try something new.
“I used to [take Pepcid] but I then I got kind of tired of bringing pills [with me],” BuzzFeed staffer Maggie Jung says. “It was kind of weird, like, ‘I just pop these pills before I really start to party!’”
So how did Ving work out for the team? At the end of the test, five out of the eight people said the vodka helped reduce some of the effects of Asian glow.
“This is [like] me just doing a few sit ups,” BuzzFeed’s Kane Diep says of his post-Ving appearance.
The BuzzFeed team’s best theory for why Ving counteracts Asian glow is that its multiple filtrations and distillations mean there are fewer toxic byproducts, such as acetaldehyde, to create the allergic reaction that presents as flush. They may be onto something, according to David Goldman, the clinical director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
If Ving’s filtration system actually does what the company claims, it could help reduce the alcohol flush reaction, according to Goldman.
Keep in mind that at this point, that’s just a theory. No one has scientifically tested whether Ving vodka reduces flushing and the alcohol brand itself hasn’t even suggested that it does.
In any case, this is still probably great news if you want to have one drink without burning up. Just remember: everything in moderation.
Why flushing isn’t a bad thing
It may help stave off Asian glow, but ultimately, neither special vodkas or pregaming with a few Pepcid ACs is the healthiest solution.
“Don’t block flushing!” Goldman said. “It’s true that antihistamines can lessen or block flushing in people carrying enzyme variants that impair alcohol metabolism, but alcohol-induced flushing isn’t a bad thing.”
Asian glow is nature’s way of discouraging alcohol consumption and is partially protective against alcoholism, he explained.
What’s more, Goldman said there’s accumulating evidence that ALDH2-deficient individuals are at much higher risk of esophageal cancer from alcohol consumption than people with fully active ALDH2.
And a recent study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found that those who experience flushing after drinking ― Asian or otherwise ― face an increased risk for high blood pressure.
Long story short? Cool it with the Pepcid and realize that Asian glow ― while very annoying ― may actually be your friend.