'Asian flush' red flag for risk of cancer

'Asian flush' red flag for risk of cancer

"Asian flush", the bright red blush that some people of Asian descent get after a few drinks, is said to increase their risk of deadly esophageal cancer.

Mr Philips Brooks, investigator with the Division of Metabolism and Health Affects at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, told Bodyodd.msnbc.msn.com that the 'Asian flush' occurs predominantly in individuals of Japanese, Chinese or Korea descent.

Those who suffer from the blush, which is commonly mistaken for a sunburn, also suffer a headache and feel nauseous when they are drink. They will also experience an increased heart rate.

According to Brooks, a genetic inability to metabolize alcohol (or ethanol) fully is the cause behind this 'condition'.

Usually the enzymes in the liver metabolizes first into the toxic chemical acetaldehyde - an animal carcinogen that causes DNA damage and other cancer-promoting effects - and then into the harmless substance acetate.

People with the flush have a genetic deficiency in the alcohol-metabolizing enzyme ALDH2 - which could possibly lead to an accumulation of the toxic substance acetaldehyde.

They hence cannot metabolize alcohol to acetate.

The alcohol will thus build up in their body and will cause the vasodilation which in turn causes the flushing response.

In some individuals with two copies of the deficient gene, the symptoms are so severe that they cannot tolerate a drop of alcohol.

Those with a single copy of the gene often get by with the heart palpitations and flushing - and this is where things get a tad risky.

According to studies, a person with a single copy of the deficient gene who drinks just two beers a day is up to 10 times more likely to develop esophageal cancer than a person who's able to metabolize the alcohol properly.

Whilst many Asians are familiar with the flush, too few realize that it is more than just an inconvenience to their outlooks, but also a red flag for one of the deadliest cancers worldwide.

dassa@sph.com.sg

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