Everyone in China probably knows about the phenomenon called the “Asian blush” – when a compatriot who’s had barely half a beer turns as red as a beet.
The flush response is linked to an inherited deficiency in an enzyme called ALDH2, shared by over a third of East Asians – Japanese, Chinese and Koreans. No doubt if you’ve hung around an Asian at any point in time, you’ve all had a laugh about it.
Well stop laughing! According to an article from the New York Times, the flushing just means that you’re at an increased risk for a deadly low-survival-rate throat cancer.
The deficiency results in problems in metabolizing alcohol, leading to an accumulation in the body of a toxin called acetaldehyde. People with two copies of the gene responsible have such unpleasant reactions that they are unable to consume large amounts of alcohol. This aversion actually protects them against the increased risk for cancer.
But those with only one copy can develop a tolerance to acetaldehyde and become heavy drinkers…
Even moderate drinking increases the risk, but it rises sharply with heavier consumption. An ALDH2-deficient person who has two beers a day has six to 10 times the risk of developing esophageal cancer as a person not deficient in the enzyme.
Well… if you’re having two beers a day, you’d already be considered a heavy drinker by the U.S. Center of Disease Control and Prevention. And in that case, maybe you ought to scale back for other reasons, tiger.