Alcohol Flush Reaction – Why does it happen?

Common conditions, Food, Lifestyle

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Many people experience a prompt reddening on their face after few drinks of alcohol. It is called “Alcohol flush reaction” and is also known as “Asian flush syndrome” due to its greater prevalence among Asians. The reaction is often considered to be a sign of natural body protection mechanism from excessive drinking. What might seem like an unexpected natural reaction is, in fact, a sign of alcohol intolerance. An associated risk factor to many health conditions.

Alcohol tolerance vs Intolerance

Alcohol tolerance is the ability of the body to metabolize alcohol and reduce its concentration in the blood. When the body and the brain are subjected to alcohol, it activates the liver to produce large amounts of liver enzymes for the breakdown of alcohol to flush out any toxic products of alcohol out of the body.

Alcohol intolerance is the inability of the liver to break down alcohol. It is related to a genetic disorder of aldehyde dehydrogenase gene (ALD­H2) that is responsible for normal functioning of the liver enzymes. Due to its absence, a toxic by-product of alcohol called ac­etalde­hyde builds up in the blood which causes intolerance.

Acetaldehyde in the blood triggers Alcohol flush reaction. It also releases a chemical called histamine in the body that causes inflammation and aids allergic reaction.  

Signs and Symptoms of high levels of blood acetaldehyde

  • Redness and flushing

One of the earliest reaction of Alcohol flush involves a persistently red face (refer Fig 1) due to enlarged blood vessels. This may also be seen on the chest and neck region.

before and after alcohol

Fig 1. Alcohol Flush Reaction

  • Palpitations

Acetaldehyde increases palpitation which is a sensation within the chest that brings awareness of an irregular or racing heartbeats.

  • Increased heart rate

An increase in heart rate is seen with increased levels of acetaldehyde. It causes the blood vessels to dilate, making the heart pump harder and faster for the blood to flow through relaxed blood vessels. 

  • Low blood pressure

Blood pressure is the pressure of blood in the circulatory system. Due to the alcohol reaction, the heart beats faster pumping out less volume of blood and dropping the blood pressure. One may feel light headed and dizzy which can get severe.

  • Extreme drowsiness and headaches

The direct cause is unknown, however, it is believed that due to the expansion of the blood vessels in the brain, histamine release and low blood pressure one may get extreme drowsiness and headaches. 

  • Pruritus (Itching)

This is an unpleasant sensation that provokes the desire to itch or scratch. This happens due to irritated nerve endings on the skin caused by histamine released by the acetaldehyde levels in the blood.

  • Nausea

A feeling of vomiting starts as the acetaldehyde levels in the body irritate the stomach lining, leading to inflammation (gastritis). 

  • Alcohol-induced asthma

Increased levels of acetaldehyde and histamine release in the body can trigger breathlessness due to constriction of the airway. It is often reported to appear after approximately 30 minutes post-alcohol consumption.

Risk Factors associated with people who get Alcohol Flush Reaction 

  • Esophageal Cancer

 Acetaldehyde in the blood is known to interfere with the DNA synthesis and repair mechanism and increases the risk of cancer by producing free radicals that are known to destroy healthy cells.

  • Alzheimer’s disease:

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological disorder in which the death of brain cells causes memory loss and affects brain function. Research has claimed that genetic disorder related to the aldehyde enzyme also interact with the brain cells which are believed to be a risk factor of Alzheimer’s disease. 

  • Heart disease

 Continual drinking of alcohol among people with Alcohol flush reaction will affect the functioning of the heart and may lead to the risk of heart problems.

  • Liver disease 

Acetaldehyde causes oxygen deficits in the liver (hypoxia), including formation of harmful compounds that damage the cells of the liver leading to a liver disease.

Are you sensitive to alcohol or is it something else? 

If you are only experiencing this reaction with specific alcohol beverages. This may suggest that it is not alcohol intolerance but could be due to other ingredients involved that triggered the reaction. 

What can be done about the Alcohol flush reaction?

There is medication available to help with the flush. However, these drugs can only curb the redness but will not be able to break down the acetaldehyde levels in the body. Thus, individuals who drink often and use drugs to suppress the flushing will still be at risk of developing a health problems.

The best way to prevent alcohol flush reaction and minimise health issues is by not drinking alcohol at all. This may however be an unrealistic solution to many especially during social events.

There are few things one could consider that may help reduce the alcohol flush reaction:

  • Eating before alcohol consumption.
  • Having drinks with lower alcohol content.
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with water or non-alcoholic drinks.

Like all things, always consume alcohol in moderation. Alcohol is a depressant, but it’s also an indirect stimulant. Never drink and drive. Medication can help mask the reaction but if you feel that it’s more than just a flush, always seek immediate medical attention.

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The Truth about Coconut Water

Food, Lifestyle

Benefits of drinking coconut

We are all familiar with the uses of the coconut fruit from coconut water to other derived ingredients like coconut oil and coconut milk. Coconut water being the latest health food fad.

From unmarketable by-product to the most popular drink

Traditionally, coconuts were harvested for their meat or white coconut kernel to extract coconut oil. Because fresh coconut water is quick to decompose once the coconut is cut, the water was often discarded as an unmarketable by-product. With developments in technology, coconut water is now being preserved in cans or tetra packs and exported to international markets.

Coconut water- Why so Popular?

Fresh coconut (Cocos nucifera L) water is a clear, sterile, colourless and naturally flavoured drink.

Its main constituents (depending on fruit maturity levels) are:

  • Water- H2O
  • Sodium- Na
  • Potassium- K
  • Chlorine- Cl
  • Sulphur- S
  • Calcium- Ca
  • Magnesium- Mg
  • Phosphorus- P
  • Manganese- Mn
  • Aluminium- Al
  • Zinc- Zn
  • Iron- Fe
  • Copper- Cu

Other traces of elements such as selenium, boron, molybdenum are also found. All of these minerals are in the form of electrolytes, which means it can be easily absorbed by the human body.

It is also a rich source of essential amino acids (lysine, histidine, tyrosine, L-arginine and tryptophan), fatty acids, glucose, fructose, cellulose, sucrose, and organic acids such as tartaric, citric and malic acids. The contents in the coconut water is similar to the body fluid plasma. In WWII, coconut water was used as intravenous fluid hydration and also as resuscitation fluid. In other words, coconut water was infused directly into the veins to improve the fluid balance in the body. Most of the health benefits attributed to coconut water can be traced to its amazingly rich mineral content.

Lets look at the health benefits of coconut water

  • Low-fat Low-sugar drink

Compared to other readily available soda drinks that are high in chemicals (artificial colour and flavouring agents), fat and sugar, coconut water is relatively low in fat and sugar. It contains only a fifth of the sugar that you get from an equal amount of fresh grape or apple juice. Even though it has a low sugar content, it has a mildly sweet and delicate flavour. Making it a healthier alternative to most retail drinks.

  • Prevent heat stroke

heat stroke and coconut

Dehydration and heat stroke is very common in hot weather. It has been shown that coconut water is better than normal water and even fruit juices when it comes to such conditions. This is because, coconut water  re-hydrates the body by providing essential minerals that correct the electrolyte balance in the body.

  • Nature’s sports drink

The natural electrolyte content in coconut water is better than the chemical electrolyte additives in the commercial sports drinks. The potassium content in coconut water will help you get rid of any muscle cramps and replenish the nutrients that your body has lost during a moderate workout.

sports drinks

  • Treatment for severe dehydration

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Coconut water’s unique mineral composition is able to rehydrate the body and give it the necessary nutrients to recover. In addition, coconut water has a rich enzyme system which has been used in the treatment of diarrhoea, stomach flu as well as urinary stone dissolution.

  • Good heart, nerve and muscle functioning

Our body has the inherent ability to provide the nutrient supply for the functioning of various body parts. Coconut water has a rich content of potassium and some amount of sodium that plays a role in the normal bodily function.

Sodium K pump

Sodium is the principal ion in the fluid outside of cells while potassium is the principal ion in the fluid inside of cells. The concentration differences between potassium and sodium across cell membranes create an electrochemical difference known as the membrane potential. The membrane potential is the basis for any cell function. A large portion of energy in the body is focused at maintaining sodium/potassium concentration gradients and tight control of this cell membrane potential is critical for heart function, nerve impulse transmission and muscle contraction.

  • Controls Blood pressure (BP) and prevents heart disease

Doctor taking patient's blood pressure

High potassium content in coconut water can cause vasodilation in blood vessels and a significant improvement in endothelial cell (cells of the arteries wall) function. The walls of the arteries get dilated and improves blood flow. This will not only help reduce high BP but will also prevent any chances of atherosclerosis (Heart disease in which plaque develops in the arteries of the heart causing hardening and lack of blood flow).

  • Anti-aging effect

Coconut water contains a rich source of cytokinins which is a growth-regulating hormone. This aids in repairing cell damage and degeneration.

  • Treatment of Kidney Stones

Coconut water also helps to dissolve kidney stones by alkalizing the urine and acting as a natural diuretic. This means that drinking coconut water will increase urine production and flow.  Dilute alkaline urine has a lesser chance for crystal formation since most minerals get dissolved completely in alkaline urine.

  • Antioxidant effect

Amino acid L-arginine present in coconut water significantly reduces free radical damage. It reduces the oxidative damage to cells of our body, slowing down the aging process.

  • Hormonal effect

Coconut juice is also believed to contain phytoestrogen and other sex hormone-like substances which can be used in hormone replacement therapy. This can reduce the risk of dementia and aid wound healing in postmenopausal women.

Given its wide range of benefits, this drink has gained a huge following and widespread availability. While coconut water has its goodness, it’s always wise to have a balanced diet and consume all foods in moderation. When in doubt, always seek an expert for advice.