Asian flush sufferers using Zantac at potential risk

The red glow of an Asian flush affects the whole face.

By LAUREN CHOO

A new trend is emerging with many Asian students using over-the-counter acid reflux pills to avoid alcohol flush reaction, otherwise known as “Asian flush”.

Asian flush is an alcohol flush that occurs due to an inherited enzyme deficiency, leading to the buildup of acetaldehyde in the body and resulting in facial flushing.

Catherine nlien sufferer of asian flush

Monash alumna Catherine NLien said she was one of the many who took acid reflux medications such as Zantac before drinking alcohol.

Ms NLien said her face and neck turned red from drinking just one or two alcoholic drinks and she had found that taking Zantac helped to alleviate the redness.

“I just take it probably 20 minutes before I have a drink and my redness just doesn’t come,” she said.

But Monash University pharmacology lecturer Dr Brad Broughton said taking the medication with alcohol was potentially a dangerous practice and could lead to alcohol poisoning. 

He said it reduced the amount of acid a person produced, slowing the conversion of alcohol into acetaldehyde. 

“[Acetaldehyde] is a highly toxic substance and essentially gives that redness pigmentation, that flush, and that’s really a sign the person needs to stop drinking and hydrate.”

Dr Broughton said those who did not suffer from the flush broke down the acetaldehyde into acetate or vinegar and water, which are harmless to the body.

Dr Broughton Monash University lecturer.

However, taking Zantac might increase the risk of alcohol poisoning as it prevented the breaking down of alcohol into acetaldehyde, causing alcohol to remain in the bloodstream.

“That’s problematic because the person then thinks, ‘well, I don’t have that flush, so it’s good and I can drink a few more’,” Dr Broughton said.

“Potentially, you’re at risk of alcohol poisoning because you’re consuming more alcohol.”

He said suffering from the flush did not mean people had to stop drinking completely. “You can just slow down the rate and allow the body to catch up,” he said.

Most drugs were metabolised through the liver, where alcohol was also broken down, and it was generally not advised to take any kind of drugs with alcohol including Zantac, he said.

Ms NLien said she believed taking Zantac was more common in females rather than males because women are more self-conscious of their appearance.

“No matter how much makeup you wear you can’t really cover that redness up, so it’s mostly the girls who take it just because they are self-conscious about them looking really ugly,” she said.

Asian flush is known to affect people of predominantly Japanese, Chinese or Korean heritage. 

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