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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.

On April 29th 2014, widely featured science journalist Francie Diep published a well written and informative article about Asian glow in Popular Science Magazine called "Why is there no pill for Asian Glow?"

In her article, Francie talks about her personal struggle with Asian glow and delves into the scientific reasons behind the condition and why there is no pill to stop it from happening.

In doing so 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 diverges 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 for them that they are less likely to continue with their addiction.

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. 

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.

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. But 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.

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 - and most importantly, this "support" for the ALDH2 enzyme can be taken as an oral supplement - i.e. there is a pill for Asian glow.

Let's have a look at a few of them:

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.

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 in conjunction with alcohol.  

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."

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.

N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC): Precursor to Glutathione

Available in pill form: Yes

Effectiveness: ★★☆☆ (3/5)

N-Acetyl Cysteine is a modified version of the sulfur-containing amino acid cysteine. When taken orally, N-Acetyl Cysteine 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.

In addition to replenishing your glutathione levels, N-Acetyl Cysteine also binds directly to the toxin that causes Asian glow.  As demonstrated in a 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 N-Acetyl Cysteine 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

The solution?

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!"

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