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Here's Why You Might Turn Red When Drinking Alcohol

It's true: One beer can cause Asian Glow.

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This is "Asian Glow" aka the red face you get when drinking alcohol:

Alexis Myung Paul / Via madintheattic.tumblr.com

"I do get embarrassed when people point it out to me, as though they were the first to point it out to me. It makes them laugh. It gets annoying," Asian-American Alexis Paul told BuzzFeed over email.

"I'm half Polish and half Korean, but I was the only East Asian in my conservative San Diego high school. The first time I got drunk in high school, [someone said], 'We don't need lights! Alexis is already glowing.' My reaction was shock. It still is."

Alexis Myung Paul / Via madintheattic.tumblr.com

"I do get embarrassed when people point it out to me, as though they were the first to point it out to me. It makes them laugh. It gets annoying," Asian-American Alexis Paul told BuzzFeed over email.

"I'm half Polish and half Korean, but I was the only East Asian in my conservative San Diego high school. The first time I got drunk in high school, [someone said], 'We don't need lights! Alexis is already glowing.' My reaction was shock. It still is."

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Alexis Myung Paul / Via madintheattic.tumblr.com

"I do get embarrassed when people point it out to me, as though they were the first to point it out to me. It makes them laugh. It gets annoying," Asian-American Alexis Paul told BuzzFeed over email.

"I'm half Polish and half Korean, but I was the only East Asian in my conservative San Diego high school. The first time I got drunk in high school, [someone said], 'We don't need lights! Alexis is already glowing.' My reaction was shock. It still is."

Technically, the term is Alcohol Flush Syndrome, but if you're Asian you might have referred to it as Asian Glow or Asian Flush.

NBC / Via supagirl.tumblr.com

So what the hell is it? To find out why some East Asians get this condition, BuzzFeed Science spoke to biochemist Kenneth Warren, Ph.D., deputy director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Contrary to popular opinion, people who turn red when drinking don't automatically get drunk faster. "Alcohol tolerance/sensitivity is independent from the gene," said Warren.

You get the glow because of a gene, but not all Asians experience it.

Columbia Pictures / Via its-fine-its-cool.tumblr.com

The flush only affects around 50% of East Asians, says Warren. This includes descendants of Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese people but also Southeast Asians like Filipinos and Vietnamese people. Middle Easterners and Indians are not affected.

"Even though Native Americans originally came from Asia, their forebears apparently did not have the defective gene," said Warren.

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But what about other races?

Ramon Hilberink / Via youtube.com

"It's very rare for other races to have the defective gene. Usually if a person of European descent is having the reaction … somewhere in their past, they have an ancestor who was Asian," said Warren.

Asian Glow is caused by a deficient enzyme that isn't able to metabolize alcohol correctly.

Maritsa Patrinos / Via BuzzFeed

Whenever you drink booze, there's an enzyme in your body that converts alcohol into a chemical called acetaldehyde. This chemical is BAD news. So another enzyme (called ALDH2) quickly gets rid of it by converting acetaldehyde into acetate (which is basically what vinegar is).

But some Asians have a deficient ALDH2 enzyme, meaning that acetaldehyde SLOWLY metabolizes into acetate. This poison basically hangs out in your blood stream for a long-ass time. This is what causes your skin to turn red, but it also causes a rapid heartbeat, fainting feeling, nausea, and other nasty symptoms like an increased risk for esophageal cancer, according to Warren.

"While the acetaldehyde makes you feel awful, it is not, technically, a hangover," said Warren.

Basically, Asian Glow is caused by a mutated gene that might have been advantageous at some point in history.

Bridal Mask / Via crazyasianfangirl.tumblr.com

Scientists are unsure about why the gene mutated, but they do think that it happened sometime around the settlement period of East Asia, said Warren.

Because it's inherited, the symptoms don't diminish with age or weight. You'll have it your whole life.

Some Asians get it and others don't.

Maritsa Patrinos / Via BuzzFeed

East Asians who inherit two good copies of the gene don't experience a flush. This is around 50% of the Asian population.

Asians who inherit one good copy and one bad copy get the glow after consuming at least one to two drinks. This is around 45% of the population. They'll usually experience symptoms up to an hour after they stop drinking—Unless they drink all night.

Around 5–7% of the population inherits two bad copies of the gene. This is the most severe type of Asian Glow. They can experience symptoms after as little as one-quarter of a cup of wine or beer. "They get very nauseous. They feel terrible. They will usually stop drinking at that point. It's not a pleasurable experience," said Warren.

What about hapas or half-Asians?

Disney / Via giphy.com

If the Asian parent has two defective copies of the gene, then their child will also experience symptoms. If the parent has one good copy and one bad copy, then their child has a 50% chance of getting Asian Glow.

What can you do to alleviate the symptoms?

awesomelyluvvie / Via giphy.com

"It's best to avoid alcohol," said Warren. Obviously most habitual drinkers are not going to do that. So Warren recommends taking an antihistamine (like allergy medications), which has been shown to have a beneficial effect.

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