By Brittney Le
You might have heard the term before: “Asian Glow.” Some of your Asian friends, or even you yourself, may get those heavy red blotches on the face, neck, and arms after consuming alcohol. You might not worry that much, though, because you know when you wake up the next morning, the redness will be gone. But it’s not as simple as that.
Alcohol flush reaction, commonly referred to as “Asian Glow” due to its noticeable prevalence among Asians, “is a signal that acetaldehyde levels have [increased] in the body, and as a toxic metabolite, the acetaldehyde can bind with various other metabolites, proteins and nucleic acids and cause organ injury,” the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) told AsAmNews. “Among the adverse consequences is an increase in the risk for esophageal cancer.” A scientific paper about the risk for esophageal cancer, one of the deadliest cancers worldwide, associated with Asian Glow was published in 2009.
Delta Nutrassentials has launched a supplement called Essential AD2 to alleviate acetaldehyde exposure in those with ALDH2 Deficiency, which affects approximately 1 billion people worldwide. Because Essential AD2 has been classified as a dietary supplement, it does not require review and approval by the FDA and its effectiveness and safety has not been verified by regulators.
The CEO of Delta Nutrassentials, Amy Chang, has ALDH2 Deficiency herself. She pointed out how many of us who have “Asian Glow” don’t necessarily know why we get it, along with not knowing the risks associated with it.
“One of our goals is to spread awareness of the health impacts associated with ALDH2 Deficiency, a genetic condition found in 40% of the Asian population and 1 billion people globally,” Chang told AsAmNews. “Unfortunately, those of us with ALDH2 Deficiency experience higher long term rates of gastric cancer, liver disease and Alzheimer’s. The mission of Delta Nutrassentials (deltanutra.com) is to create products that provide an everyday path to realigning our health to greater balance and harmony. An example of this is Essential AD2, a clinically-proven daily vitamin supplement product that reduces acetaldehyde accumulation in the body.”
Acetaldehyde can be found everywhere, in daily products and encounters we might not expect. “The main indicator of ALDH2 Deficiency is the experience of Asian Glow when drinking alcohol,” said Chang. “Alcohol is the most concentrated source of acetaldehyde, but the toxin is also found in cigarette smoke, air pollution, and everyday diet such as coffee, fruit and high-sugar foods.”
In order to eliminate alcohol from the body, ALDH2 is an enzyme responsible for breaking down toxic acetaldehyde (from alcohol) into non-toxic acetic acid. Unfortunately, it might not be so easy for many Asians to do so.
“The variant of the ALDH gene appears primarily in individuals of Asian origin with about 50 percent of the Asian population (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and others) having this gene variant,” the NIAAA responded. “The ALDH gene variant produces an enzyme that is much less active than the typical form. With less activity, acetaldehyde levels increase in various organs and cells of the body. These higher [concentrations] pose a serious health risk because acetaldehyde, at high levels, can be toxic. It can bind with and disrupt many other proteins and nucleic acids thereby causing organ damage.”
However, a lot of individuals with ALDH2 Deficiency experience social pressures that encourage them to consume alcohol. We have been taught to pride ourselves on being able to hold our liquor. In a society where drinking alcohol is seen as an act of communion and social participation, the dangers of ignoring alcohol flush reaction are real. “Social pressures in society strongly encourage many individuals who have the ALDH variant to drink alcohol despite the fact that it would be better if they did not do so,” wrote the NIAAA. “Recognizing that many individuals will drink despite the heightened risk for organ injury, such a drug, could contribute to a decrease in disease.”
Two Asian American UCLA students were asked about their experiences with alcohol flush reaction. They both indicated that they reduce their alcohol consumption once they start noticing redness during social situations. “I take meds to deal with Asian Glow,” one of the students responded. “When I don’t, I’m a lot more aware of being drunk because my face gets pretty hot.” She takes Pepcid before drinking to alleviate the redness, in order to avoid the all-too-common scenario of friends and strangers constantly pointing out how red she is.
However, USC experts have warned against this, as many take antihistamines like Pepcid before drinking to reduce the appearance of redness. “This is a dangerous practice since the person can end up consuming excess levels of alcohol because they become less aware of the behavioral effects of alcohol for a while,” said Davies, director of the Alcohol and Brain Research Laboratory at USC.
According to the Delta Nutrassentials website, a third-party clinical research organization has performed a clinical trial that “demonstrated significant reductions in blood acetaldehyde level and Alcohol Flush Reaction in individuals with ALDH2 Deficiency.”
The NIAAA has not been aware of the existence of this product and has not seen scientific publications other than material produced by the manufacturer, so it cannot comment on its effectiveness. However, it acknowledges the potential of a supplement that might alleviate symptoms of alcohol flush reaction. “It is clear that an agent that would reduce acetaldehyde levels without causing any other adverse effects would be highly desirable for those individuals who drink and have the ALDH variant,” the NIAAA responded.
Unfortunately, risk awareness continues to be an issue. A 2015 BuzzFeed video ignored the long-term negative effects associated with alcohol flush reaction, telling those of us who get Asian Glow to “be proud.”
Spencer Gordon, one of the co-founders of Delta Nutrassentials, shared his story about the discovery of Essential AD2. “I first got into the problem of ALDH2 Deficiency while researching metabolism at UC Berkeley,” Gordon told AsAmNews. “Both my roommate and girlfriend at the time had ‘Asian Glow,’ which I was only familiar with by name. I began to research the problem really deeply after I found out about the negative health effects associated with ALDH2 Deficiency (the underlying cause) and I knew that it could be mitigated somehow.”
For Gordon, alcohol flush reaction posed a tricky problem: alcohol consumption is usually associated with spikes in acetaldehyde at various instances, rather than a steady level of exposure. “Developing the product more and more it was clear that it would need to be taken daily, like a multivitamin, in order to allow some time for the beneficial compounds, which also protect from everyday exposure to other sources of acetaldehyde (air pollution, food, smoke), to build up,” he said.
“After a few years I decided to turn the product into a business because there was so much demand locally and ALDH2 Deficiency affects over 1 billion people around the world,” he said. “Customers became continuous repeat purchasers who loved the product and how it improved their health and lives, and sent in testimonials and stories about their experience, which is extremely rewarding to read.”
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