Sunset Alcohol Flush Support

Response to PopSci Article "Why is there no pill for Asian glow?"

Asian glow

In the spirit of the original article, here are some more examples of Asian glow.

Big thank you to Flickr users: BrinkleydanielleMarie, Clay Eaton, Nellie Nyugen, Jess Spiegz, Fymkim1, Han Phan, Esbepe215, for sharing your Asian glow pictures under the creative commons license.

If you've ever struggled with Asian glow, you might have seen the recent informative article by science journalist Francie Diep published in Popular Science Magazine called "Why is there no pill for Asian Glow?"

What a great question!

In her article, Francie talks about her personal struggle with Asian glow and dives into the scientific reasons behind the condition. Oftentimes, this condition is passed down through family members for generations and isn't something that can be prevented from developing.

The big question is why there is no pill to stop Asian glow symptoms from happening when it clearly impacts so many people from around the world. Francie notes that "about one in three people of East Asian descent have the gene that makes the inefficient variant of aldehyde dehydrogenase." Asian glow is uncomfortable, embarrassing and sometimes painful. So why is there no cure?

While diving into the subject of Asian glow, she quotes Robert Swift, a physician and researcher who studies alcoholism at Brown University

"It's a lot easier to inhibit an enzyme than it is to stimulate an enzyme. There are very few compounds discovered that can stimulate enzymes."

What Swift is referring to here is the ALDH2 enzyme, which we discuss at length in our article The Ultimate Guide to Asian Flush and Asian Glow. Basically speaking, it is a deficiency in this enzyme that causes Asian glow.

Swift goes on to talk about how, in addition to not being able to stimulate the ALDH2 enzyme, supplementing with more of it is also problematic because it would get broken down before reaching the liver. He further states that even if some ALDH2 did reach the liver "the enzymes are too big to get into cells" thus rendering direct supplementation of ALDH2 most likely ineffective.

Whilst Swift's pessimism might seem a little disheartening to the many hopeful red faced drinkers out there, it is based in sound science. To date, to our knowledge, there has been no credible account of getting deficient ALDH2 enzymes to work better.

Does that mean there is no way to stop the Asian glow?

No, it doesn't - and this is where our opinion differs from Professor Swift's.

It is important to keep in mind that Robert Swift is seeing the issue from the perspective of an alcoholism researcher. He is a professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior who conducts clinical and laboratory research on the pharmacological treatment of alcohol and drug dependence.

What this means in simple terms is that he works a lot with a drug called Disulfiram, which deactivates the ALDH2 enzyme in alcoholics and, in effect, gives them Asian glow. This is thought to make alcohol consumption so unpleasant and uncomfortable for them that they are less likely to continue with their addiction.

That's right - they give temporary Asian glow to alcoholics so they will be convinced to stop drinking and avoid those horrible symptoms. 

Looking at the issue through this lens, it is of little surprise that Swift sees stimulation or supplementation of the ALDH2 enzyme as the only two ways one can prevent Asian glow from happening - but he has overlooked one very important point.

We know this definitively because there are pills that stop Asian glow and they don't do it by either of the two methods that Professor Swift debunks - i.e. by stimulating or supplementing with the ALDH2 enzyme. 

Alcohol and Asian Glow

You can stop Asian glow by supporting the ALDH2 enzyme

A common misconception is that people with Asian glow lack the ALDH2 enzyme entirely. This is not the case, rather they have deficient ALDH2 enzymes that don't work as well as they should - but they do work to some degree. So how can we use this to our advantage?

As we've seen from Swift's astute conclusions, you can't stimulate these deficient ALDH2 enzymes to work more efficiently and you can't simply swallow more of them. However, you can provide support to these enzymes to reduce the amount of toxins they need to break down and reduce your body's reaction to any toxins they fail to deal with. Essentially a two-pronged attack against Asian glow.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, when you "support" the deficient ALDH2 enzymes like this you reduce your liver's dependence on them alone to stop your Asian glow from happening. Most importantly, this "support" for the ALDH2 enzyme can be taken as an oral supplement.

In short: there is a pill for Asian glow.

Let's have a look at a few of the most common pills used against Asian Glow:

H2 Receptor Antagonists: Famotidine and Ranitidine

Available in pill form: Yes

Effectiveness: ★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

H2 Receptor antagonists such a famotidine and ranitidine have traditionally been used for their anti-histamine properties in pharmaceutical products such as Pepcid and Zantac.

Whist officially marketed to sufferers of heartburn and indigestion, these products have long been used by people with Asian glow to reduce the severity of their reaction. Many people dealing with Asian glow often turn to Pepcid or Zantac products to help with their symptoms, however it's not the designed use of the drugs and does come with negative side effects.

Here's a video of an Asian glow sufferer trying Pepcid AC (famotidine) with alcohol:

Warning: despite their wide usage by Asian glow sufferers, there are many risks associated with taking H2 receptor antagonists like Pepcid and Zantac along with alcohol. It's important to remember that these drugs were not created to treat Asian glow specifically.

A study by the American Journal of Gastroenterology concluded that:

"Under conditions mimicking social drinking, ranitidine increases blood alcohol to levels known to impair psychomotor skills needed for driving."

It's important to remember that taking these types of medications while drinking for your Asian glow symptoms can increase your blood alcohol levels higher than usual. This means you'll get drunk much faster than you normally would.

In addition to some H2 receptor antagonists increasing blood alcohol levels, it is also a huge risk if the anti-histamine properties of these products merely mask the Asian glow without addressing the underlying cause.

If you are thinking about trying H2 receptor antagonists like Pepcid for your Asian glow, please take a moment to learn about some of the more serious risks in our article: Debunking The Asian Flush Cancer Risk. It's always important to be informed about what your condition, it's long-term effects and possible treatments.

N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC): Precursor to Glutathione

Available in pill form: Yes

Effectiveness: ★★☆☆ (3/5)

N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) is a modified version of the sulfur-containing amino acid cysteine. When taken orally, NAC replenishes intracellular levels of glutathione - one of the most powerful anti-oxidants known to man.

Unlike the anti-histamines discussed above, the presence of more glutathione provides much needed support for the ALDH2 enzyme and helps stop Asian glow from its root cause.

It doesn't just mask the symptoms like other options.

In addition to replenishing your glutathione levels, N-Acetyl Cysteine also binds directly to the toxin that causes Asian glow. As demonstrated in a scientific study by a group of researchers in Newfoundland, Canada:

“N-acetyl cysteine, an analogue of the dietary amino acid cysteine, binds acetaldehyde, thus preventing its damaging effect…"

It is this exact toxin that our ALDH2 deficient livers are having trouble breaking down, so the presence of more NAC will support the function of our ALDH2 enzyme and help alleviate Asian glow.

The problem: taking N-Acetyl Cysteine in pill form by itself is inefficient for a few important reasons:

    1. Glutathione levels are heavily depleted by alcohol consumption
    2. N-Acetyl Cysteine doesn't catch all of the toxins
    3. Our body will still react to any toxins that slip through

So is there a viable solution for Asian glow? Or is this a condition that will continue to go untreated?

What is the Best Pill for Asian Glow?

The best pill for Asian glow is one that combines the flush preventing effects of H2 receptor antagonists with the supportive properties of N-Acetyl Cysteine, whilst ensuring that all of the vital ingredients are not being depleted by alcohol.

We talk about how to achieve this in much more detail in our article: "Red face after drinking alcohol? The science of alcohol red face + how to cure it!"

Jordana Lee profile picture

Published on Dec 23, 2016 in category by - Asian flush consultant @ SRQ Labs