Is the ‘Asian glow’ real?

As someone who is half Chinese, I was shocked to find out about “Asian glow”. Asian glow is the reaction that many Asians have after drinking alcohol- their face and neck redden and they can get a headache or feel nauseous, among a variety of other possible symptoms. When I asked my dad, who is full Chinese, about it, and he said he never had that issue. He had heard about it, but all throughout his career in the wine industry, he never had a problem. This only made me question this problem more- why is something that’s such a big deal not even affect the Asian side of my family?


“Asian glow” is actually Alcohol Flush Reaction (AFR), and it affects about half of the Asian population. According to Yale Scientific, the reason behind AFR is that, while alcohol is usually metabolized in your liver, where it is oxidized into acetaldehyde which then is turned into acetate, people who deal with AFR don’t have the specific enzyme (ALDH2) that  turns acetaldehyde into acetate. If people lack this enzyme, it can cause as much at 10 times the average amount of acetaldehyde to be in their system. This large amount of acetaldehyde then causes this glow, headache, and nausea.


Man before versus after drinking alcohol, AFR example

Further studies about this could be beneficial in figuring out how serious AFR could be. One study is reporting research that points towards an increased chance of getting esophageal cancer. It’s not so much that AFR causes the increased potential of getting esophageal cancer, but rather that the lack of ALDH2 causes it. Some sort of longitudinal study of people who deal with AFR could be beneficial in seeing it they ever develop esophogeal cancer, and of course there would need to be another group of people in this study who do not deal with AFR. But then again, as Andrew often reminds us, it could always come down to chance, or even be a completely different third variable that hasn’t yet been considered or talked about.

So the answer to this question is yes- Asian glow is definitely real and could potentially be linked to more problems than just a flushed face and not feeling well, but more research needs to be done to better understand and increase our knowledge about the other dangers of not having ALDH2. My fellow Asians, depending on their level of concern about this, may want to get checked for esophogeal cancer at some point in their life.

Image sources:

Asian glow example

Shot glasses

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