If you get the “Asian glow,” you may want to reconsider your next margarita.
A new study suggests that those who get a red flush while drinking alcohol may be more susceptible to damaging their DNA than those who don’t.
The alcohol flush reaction, which turns some drinkers’ skin and face red, is often referred to as the “Asian glow” or “Asian flush” because it is especially common among Asian people. And while an episode of ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat” suggested it happens only to Asian people, the red flush can affect anyone of any background.
Those who get the red glow while drinking are unable to efficiently process alcohol because of an inherited deficiency in the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2).
This deficiency makes the liver unable to break down the acetaldehyde in alcohol, leading to an accumulation of the toxic substance. The result? A rapid heartbeat, nausea, headache or a red facial flush.
British researchers now believe that those with the Asian glow are suffering more DNA damage than previously believed, according to a study published this month in the scientific journal Nature.
While testing the effects of alcohol on lab mice, researchers at Cambridge University found that mice with the gene responsible for “Asian glow” were four times more likely to have DNA damage after a single dose of alcohol.
“If you carry the flush mutation, alcohol could be very damaging to you,” Ketan Patel, the study’s lead author and professor at Cambridge’s molecular biology lab, told CBC News.
Anya Topiwala, a clinical researcher who studies the affects of alcohol but was not involved in this paper, said the study “is most impressive” and suggests that those with “Asian glow” are at higher risk for cancer.
It also further proves something researchers already know to be true: Alcohol can damage DNA.
“This paper is evidence that it is alcohol itself damaging DNA,” Topiwala added. “It also provides direct support for the previous suspicion that alcohol is worse for those with the Asian flush.”
The potential for DNA damage is especially concerning because that damage can lead to cancer ― and the study’s co-authors believe that their findings may explain the link between alcohol and cancer risk.
“I think what this study does is provide a mechanism for a direct link between alcohol and cancer,” Topiwala, who works in Oxford’s department of psychiatry, told HuffPost.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology in November released a statement highlighting alcohol drinkers’ increased risk for cancer. According to the organization, which represents some of the nation’s top cancer doctors, there is evidence that shows that alcohol consumption is linked to a number of cancers, including larynx, esophageal, breast and colon cancers.
“Even modest use of alcohol may increase cancer risk,” the group warned. “But the greatest risks are observed with heavy, long-term use.”
Daryl L. Davies, a professor at the University of Southern California’s clinical pharmacy who studies alcoholism, took a more cautious approach.
In an email to HuffPost, Davies said the study’s findings were “well within what those in alcohol research already know.”
He also pointed out that there is not full agreement among researchers “on the cause of alcohol-induced cancers, and why some organs are more susceptible to cancers than others.”
Davies did note, however, that those with the genetic deficiency that causes red flush have an “increase incidence of particular cancers.”
When asked if people who get the glow should stop drinking alcohol altogether, Davies said it was a “personal choice,” but he warned that ignoring the effects that come with “Asian flush” could be dangerous.
“Those that choose to ignore and try ways to circumvent the flush ― [for example, the] use of antihistamines ― have a significantly greater chance of getting” certain cancers, Davies said. “Do you want to take that chance? Up to the individual.”