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05.12.2004

Losing the wine flush: a cure for the red face

Ruth, like many Asian Americans, has at times been reluctant to drink wine because of her tendency to turn a deep shade of red after even just half a glass of red or white.

The cause of this "wine flush" has to do with how many Asians metabolize alchohol. Alchohol is absorbed through the stomach and small intestine. About 10 percent is eliminated by the kidneys, lungs, and sweat glands, but the rest is dealt with in the liver by two enzymes: alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). I don't know enough about the body's chemistry to know how these two enzymes actually manage to break down the alchohol, but it's enough to know that they do.

It's this second enzyme (ALDH) that is missing (or low) in up to 50 percent of Asian people, and is not present at all in most Native Americans and Inuits. People with less ALDH will often flush and sweat after drinking alcohol, and if their quantities of the enzyme are quite low, they may also become ill after drinking even small amounts of booze.

Recent studies also suggest women have fewer of these enzymes than men.

The wine flush ranges from a light pink to a deep red purple in my experience, and for many it's embarrassing, which is why my ears perked up the other day when an Asian colleague at work claimed to have a cure for it.

He swore that taking a Pepcid AC tablet before or during drinking, significantly reduced or even eliminated his wine flush.

After a few highly scientific tests, we have found that it really does work. How it works is a mystery that won't be solved here. Pepcid AC contains Famotidine. According to DrugDigest.org, "Famotidine is a histamine-2 receptor blocker, or H2-blocker. It works in the stomach on a pump that releases hydrochloric acid when stimulated by histamine. Famotidine prevents histamine from stimulating this pump, thereby reducing the amount of acid that is released into the stomach." What I don't know, is how the level of acid in the stomach correlates to ALDH levels and alchohol metabolism.

I'm going to spare Ruth the embarassment of having before and after pictures posted here, and as a creative person you couldn't have trusted that I didn't photoshop them anyway. So I simply leave it to you to try yourself, or offer to friends. Ruth is glad to know about it, and especially excited at the prospect of not having to be bright red in her wedding dress after a few sips of Champagne at the reception.

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