Monday, June 12, 2006

Asian alcohol intolerance

I'm going to stop drinking for the time being.

Friday night I had 1.5 drinks at a pub near my new San Fran crash pad. It was going to be just a single red tropical cocktail, but an hour later Kevin's friend asked me, "Another round?" I said, "Not for me, thanks," which he took to mean yes. He came back with another drink in the same shape glass, same pineapple garnish, but bright orange instead.

I didn't want it to go to waste, so I drank half of it.

Saturday night I had a sangria at dinner with Omar & Neha & Matthias.

Apparently the atrocity of drinking on two consecutive days was too much for my weak Asian alcohol-processing liver. It doesn't matter that I had only 1 or 1.5 drinks each night. My body has let me know that this kind of rampant behavior will NOT BE TOLERATED.

Today (Sunday), I woke up and laid unmoving in bed (or rather, my sleeping bag on the floor of my crash pad) for 30 minutes. Summoning the strength to get up to take a shower was a Herculean effort.

My payment for drinking isn't headaches or vomiting or weeping -- it's to become a hunk of unmoving iron for the next day.

I was riding the Muni on my way back to Mountain View this afternoon, and I caught a glimpse of my reflection against the window when we entered a tunnel. The dark circles under my eyes jumped out, to a degree that terrified the vain side of me.

Further alarming the vain part is the fact that I felt very bloated all day. Of course, I googled as to whether drinking makes you fat. Half the web pages say definitely! It increases cortisol which directs fat to your belly! The other half say absolutely not, and in fact makes you lose weight, because it increase metabolic rate and also decreases consumption of sugar.

The second one is probably not right, as I have the metabolic rate of a slug right now. (Sorry to all slugs.)

In any case, I'm going to avoid this situation for a while. It may lead to some interesting questioning, in modern American partying-equals-drinking society.

29 comments:

genesplyce said...

I think the Asian alcohol intolerance doesn't apply to Koreans. My Korean pals all drink like it O2. Maybe Soju steels your body against all other ethanol related incursions. It is truly unfair to have to pay for your festivities the following day.

Anonymous said...

asian alcohol intolerance? urban legend. genetically speaking, the only race affected by said syndrome are Native Americans aka American Indians aka Indians. the only reason asian (and i mean south and east) people have this rep is because culturally they do not drink as much as western folk. tolerance is not based on blood alcohol level, but your experience to subdue the normal effects brought on by alcohol, i.e clumsiness, lack of balance, volume control, inhibition gauge, etc. let's face it, we have all witnessed the idiot drunk who exemplefies these traits. research thus far indicates scientifically speaking, "the alcohol tolerance" people speak of is actually a modus operandi, it allows people to disguise and camoflouge behavior that they would normally be unable to control, were it not for their prior experience with alcohol. however, their experience with alcohol allows them to behave in a manner that would decieve most people to believe they are not as intoxicated as they actually are. testing their BAL would prove this. BAL (blood alcohol level- ratio of alcohol to blood) proves this. i am 95 lbs, but seemingly can drink 200lb. men under the table. they may appear to be more drunk than i am, however my "tolerance" and experience would lead more people to believe that said individual would probably be more intoxicated than i am. simply stated, my experience with allows me to handle my the situation in a different way. if my behavior was to be compared to a fair sampling of society with similar BAL, i would appear more sober than them. btw, stating the asian urban legend myth, i am not talking about people of asian descent raised in western countries. i solely apply it to people that have the "old-school values- more oof the eastern way of life." anyway, my whole point to this response is a result of getting pulled over three months ago. embarrasingly enough i had to perform 3 difft field sobriety tests, walk heel to toe for 20 steps, heel to toe balance beam exercise for 20 steps-forward and back-, and finally the flashlight eye tracing test. the first two tests were entirely up to me, however you can not cheat the flashlight and eyes, the most control you have is not making your head swivel with the flashlight movement, keeping your head still and just moving your eyes. well, anyway, after that final test they pulled this machine out of their trunk and asked me to blow into it. as a bartender ia m extremely familiar with liquor related laws in the state of texas. i am legally allowed to refuse to take the breathalizer. however if i do this they are also legally allowed to arrest me and draw blood to determine my BAL. when one of the officers asked of i was willing to go to jail rather than breathe, i simply responded, "yes, absolutely, the fact of the matter is if you thought i was drunk i would already be handcuffed and in the back of your car. as i told you earlier i am a bartender, well aware of dram shop laws and most liquor related laws in the state of texas and i know i have the legal right to refuse the breathilizer. i also know upon my refusal that you can take me in and process me, but like i said earlier, officer, if you felt that i was intoxicated, we would not be having this discussion, you would be processing me right now." so he and his partner step to the side and have a private pow-wow. he comes back to tell me that they never really believed i was drunk (which maybe i was or maybe i wasn't) but because, well, let's see, let me quote him.. "we don't really believe you are drunk, but when we perform the eye tracing test, we can't tell on people like you. eyes of people from your part of the world don't skip when they have been drinking." maybe because they dont drink" 'people like you'? 'those people'? ' your part of the world'? really? he doesn't even know what part of the world i am from.. (and uhh, in the 25 years i have grown up in america, 90% of ethnic/geographical background guesses i get are either central/south american or middle eastern. my family is from east india and bangladesh. anyway i was pleased not to get a dui, but was disturbed by the reverse raciam. granted if the cop said he was letting me go because i was the ugliest thing he had ever seen, i would have acted in the same way. suu-wheet, no dui, no dwi, yesss!!! but is it true about south/sw asian folk. really? our eyes betray the eye tracing test. is there a genetic predisposition that allows our eyes to betray the tracing test? oh and, btw, i always pay for my alcohol relare indulgences. blah blah, i havr rambled on, lookin for an answer to the asian eye tracin?.?..?.???........

グレッグ said...

asian alcohol intolerance? urban legend. genetically speaking, the only race affected by said syndrome are Native Americans aka American Indians aka Indians. the only reason asian (and i mean south and east) people have this rep is because culturally they do not drink as much as western folk.

I'm gonna have to call BS here on two counts. Ehem...

Count one, 50% of asians are unable to metabolize alcohol. In fact, they have a slight allergic reaction to "said substance" resulting in symptoms such as flushed red faces. Due to this inablity to metabolize alcohol, they are also much less likely to become alcoholics. Count two, I live in Tokyo (and for the record I am not Japanese). I can promise you that the level of alcohol consumption here is at least on par if not higher than that of western countries. Unfortunately, you'll just have to take my word on Count two, but feel free to google Count one.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why I'm replying to a stranger's blog, but since I am already doing this, just wanna say that the person from 'that part of the world' wrote a whole bunch of BS

Anonymous said...

i dont believe in that asian alcohol intolerance thing. i am chinese and although im not good with alcohol, my brother can keep on drinking until he gets sick and still show no signs of being drunk or flushed face or anything like that. so i think its an individual thing when it comes to being able to handle alcohol.

Anonymous said...

the most common abnormal reaction to alcohol is seen in persons from an oriental background, who get flushing, increased heart rate, and symptoms of reduced blood pressure due to a genetic impairment in the metabolism of alcohol. This is sometimes referred to as 'oriental flushing syndrome'. The response is thought to be due to increased levels of acetaldehyde (in the blood, which causes signs of histamine release) due to impaired breakdown of alcohol caused by Aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) deficiency. Approximately 50% of Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans are deficient in ALDH, and this has been reported to be protective against the development of alcoholism. I am half chinese and I myself suffer from alcohol intolerance. Its got nothing to do with how much you drink or can handle, its genetic. I don't get drunk quickly. In fact my face flushes up and my heart rate quickens before I am even tipsy. But like it says above, only 50% of orientals are deficient in ALDH, not all of them.

Gary said...

anon 3/22 is correct; I read about the above comment in a misc. facts book describing what I called "asian alcohol syndrome" as an excuse for my non-drinking. Some Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans are deficient in the 2nd of 2 enzymes for ethanol digestion. The acetaldehyde builds up to toxic levels and we get the flushing, racing heart, and massive hangover within an hour or two. I usually would pass out after about two shots of 80 proof and wake up 2 hrs. later with a splitting headache.
http://www.healthchecksystems.com/alcohol.htm
(edited)
"Once alcohol reaches the stomach, it begins to break down with the alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme. The alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme breaks down alcohol by removing hydrogen in two steps:
1. Alcohol dehydrogenase oxidizes alcohol to acetaldehyde.
2. Acetaldehyde dehydrogenase oxidizes the acetaldehyde to acetyl CoA (acetic acid). These reactions produce hydrogen ions (acid). The B vitamin niacin (in its role as the coenzyme NAD) picks up these hydrogen ions (becoming NADH). Thus when alcohol is metabolized, NAD diminishes and NADH increases.

During alcohol metabolism, NAD becomes unavailable for the many other vital body processes for which it is needed, including glycolysis, the TCA cycle and the electron transport chain. Without NAD, the energy pathway is blocked, and alternative routes are taken, with serious physical consequences:

The accumulation of hydrogen atoms shifts the body’s balance toward acid.

The accumulation of NADH slows the TCA cycle, resulting in a build up of pyruvate and acetyl CoA. Excess acetyl CoA results in fatty acid synthesis and fat begins to clog the liver."

GeckoKid said...

I'm one of those intolerant people, and i'm chinese. i should have known sooner as i just threw up three times after thinking 2.5 pints of alcohol at a party. not a very nice experience. i don't count myself as drunk, but i suffered a blocked nose, i lost my balance, and got really red after 2 sips from my first pint. but although i got really sleepy i was completely sober, ie i knew exactly what i was doing and i remember everything. regarding to native indians, what they are intolerant is milk, not alcohol (although they may as well... i'm milk intolerant too, funnily i get a similiar syndrome after drinking a glass of hot milk made from powder [that was the very last time i had any milk] )

so next time i know i can blame my genes.

Ziegfriedel said...

Actually approximately 50% of all Asians have alcohol intolerance due to genetic variation ALDH2*2 with results in a less powerful version of acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. An important chemical in the processing of alcohol in the liver. This results in a dangerous buildup of acetaldehyde, the chemical alcohol is converted into before it can be digested. Unfortunately when in this form it can actually be even more potent than alcohol.

Anonymous said...

i have alcohol intolerance! im aisan and in college yet i cant drink! life sucks overtime. Everytime i drink i get this flush that makes my skin red and hot. It lasts for a whole week. If you thought your life sucked, mines just surpassed yours.

Anonymous said...

I have the same exact thing as the guy above me but my arms swell up and are unbearably itchy. The itchiness lingers for a week or two and when the swelling goes down, the skin starts to peel off in large chunks. I basically peeled a layer of skin from my entire arm last time this happened.

Anonymous said...

Does this also apply to Indians from the sub-continent?

Alec said...

I'm a Filipino and I get red all over too whenever I drink alcohol. One thing that bothers me though is that 5 continuous shots of tequila can't bring me down. Weird, I know.

boom shaka laka said...

I stumbled onto this page looking for the rate of alcoholism for asians, but this subject piques my curiousity. I'm 1/2 Vietnamese and 1/2 caucasian. I do not get red-faced when drinking alcohol, but I usually experience enough side effects (headache, sluggishness, bloating, etc) when drinking that I find it to be an overall unpleasant experience. I can have a couple drinks without a problem, but I'm a fairly large guy and it takes more than 2 drinks to get me a "buzz", hence I usually bypass drinking altogether. In my younger days (early 20s) I did go through spells of semi-regular drinking and my tolerance certainly went up accordingly, but I've always felt some after effects (especially the sluggishness) that it never became a habit. I know I should consider myself lucky, but I have to admit sometimes I feel like I'm "missing out" on all the casual drinking that takes place in society (let me reiterate, I know I'm lucky not to be!).

.buckethead. said...

I just had a Smirnoff Ice Triple Black about 15 minutes ago, and I now look like a bloody tomato. What's worse is that all my scar tissue turns a deep purple.

Damn you Asian Alcohol Intolerance!

PG said...

Based on the claims in this column, it would make sense that Asians who are descended at least in part from a long line of city-dwellers, who often substituted alcoholic beverages because of the difficulty of obtaining clean water, would be more likely to have the enzymes necessary to digest alcohol. Whereas if your ancestry is entirely from rural areas with access to clean water, you are more likely to be in the set of people who lack the enzyme.

Of course, there will be variance even between siblings who have the same overall genetic inheritance, just as one Caucasian might have blue eyes while his sister has brown eyes.

Anonymous said...

hey it might be celiac disease, its been known to cause bloating and fatigue is also a symptom. get a blood test for it cause it can lead to alot of problems.

lewis said...

Of course, not every Asian has this problem. I know that I do, though! Which makes going out for dinner a big problem.. there should be alternate way or some medicines for this right..?
please let me know how you guys are handling this.
=============================
Lewis

http://www.alcoholismtreatment.info

Anonymous said...

Hi people. I am Korean American and I too get the Flush. A couple years ago I tried Pepcid AC. For some reason it helps. I heard Zantac also works (but I never tried it). It doesn't cure the redness but greatly reduces it. Take ONE on an empty stomach with a full glass of water at least one hour before drinking alcohol. Down sides are; It works better some nights than others. It makes me gassy and leaves my stomach feeling kind of blahhh for the next 4 or 5 days. Also do NOT eat while drinking on Pepcid, this for some reason causes the redness to come back instantly. Keep a bottle of Visine nearby because it doesn't help with the bloodshot eyes. It doesn't work for all flush victims but it works pretty good for me.

Anonymous said...

I am half Asian (and half Caucasian) and my mother and her sibs all get the flush. I don't -- however, I find that different types or even brands of alcohol affect me differently. For example, as much as I love Guinness, I start getting a headache before I even finish a pint, unless I drink it VERY slowly, like 30-45 minutes. Two isn't really an option. Clear (white) Bacardi is fine, but with Captain Morgan's or Bacardi Black (for example) I have the same problem as with most beers. Wine makes me stupid almost immediately, and again with the headache, in most cases after only a few sips. However, with careful experimentation I have found a few things I can have and be relaxed without feeling like crap in 1/2 an hour. Treat it like you would a food allergy and perhaps you, too may find something that works. On the upside, your risk of alcoholism is *much* lower!

Anonymous said...

MORE asians lack the allele on a certain chromosome which enables them to deal with alcohol effectively. white people and black people tend to have this gene in higher amounts than asian people do. Its also true that the amount of alcohol that a white or black person drinks "safely" in one night can be down right lethal to an asian person and can cause them to go into cardiac arrest quicker. some asians i jnow cant drink the amount i can drink but saome are damn more tolerant than i am. biologically its the given rule that they cant handle alcohol like blacks or whites.

Cary said...

For all you folks who miss out on drinking and being cool at parties and bars, you will be thankful when you are older and your liver is functioning while others are suffering. Remember, you don't have to have liver cancer. Even a slightly impaired liver and not detectable by traditional tests can cause a host of health related problems later on. As your body ages, all the defects start to surface.

Nowadays, the pressure to drink is enormous. Just like smoking used to be. Drinking alcohol was once for health reasons. Some people whose body are predisposed to being 'cold' need alcohol to feel warm. Marketers later made it into a lifestyle. Today you have people who don't need to feel warm drinking including those who shouldn't touch it at all.

Know your body. If you don't, then play safe and be on the conservative side.

Anonymous said...

Agree w/ last person. I'm half Chinese, and half German and Native American. My genes seem to be stacked against the alcohol, but it's like those German genes outweigh everything (although not true for my sister!). We figured this out when I was a kid and accidentally had guzzled spiked punch at a wedding...and then felt absolutely nothing. As an adult I could throw back wine and have no buzz whatsoever after 4 big glasses as long as I'm eating. That said, I've never cared to drink much (actually never been drunk), and people just can't seem to handle you not drinking if they are...so it can be really obnoxious in social situations. Really silly if you think about it. Thus, I actually used to envy the rest of my Chinese family, who all get the flush big time (although most of them are big drinkers anyway), since it's a great gauge for drinking and is also a great way to make people lay off when you don't want to drink, i.e "No thanks, just can't hold much alcohol." So, as for the kid whose college life supposedly sucks due to the problem, at least he has a good excuse if he feels too insecure about not drinking at frat parties to just pass. Now that I have to take a medication that makes you fall asleep if you drink on top of it, I have the ultimate excuse--"Sorry, you know, drugs." On the bright side, when you have a physiological reaction, you can enjoy a glass and then your body tells you you've had enough. Nothing to be embarrassed about--my family just enjoys ribbing each other about who's the reddest.

Anonymous said...

I'm half Chinese and half caucasian and while i don't get too red, i really suffer when i drink. i can handle a couple but basically if i ever get to the stage where i am drunk i will without doubt be throwing up for the entire next day- i'm talking every half an hour for about 6 hours. anyone else get this?
i struggled with it for al ong time and spent a lot of my teenage years throwing up in many friends houses, places of work and toilets around the world. i still feel pressure in some situations to drink, and i hate it because people do seem to judge you. but i just can't do it now that i have to work for a living and can't risk getting fired! sometimes i wish i could drink more, but overall i'm glad i don't waste all that time and money on drinking like the people who don't have to think about these things...

KoreanGuy said...

It's astounding how Anonymous can claim Asian alcohol intolerance is an urban legend. First of all, nobody should be sourcing data regarding alcohol consumption from a random reply to a post on a blog (that applies to this reply as well...if you're curious about a topic, find a reputable source, not a stranger who tells you what you want to hear). Genetically, Asians are predispositioned to lack enzymes which allow their bodies to metabolize alcohol. It's chemistry: if your body can't break it down, then it stays in your system essentially as a poison until it is passed through urine or sweat. That doesn't mean Asians can't drink, or that Asian countries don't have drinking cultures. It just means that relative to those of European descent, Asians genetically tend to be less capable (and in many cases, incapable) of metabolizing alcohol. This is dangerous, because it means that alcohol accumulates in the system until passed from the body: it does not break down. This makes it possible for many Asians to become intoxicated quicker, and face greater health risks as a result of their inebriation and their body's inability to eliminate alcohol from the system metabolically. Do some research on it on a reputable site.

On a quick side-note, this "intolerance" applies across all of Eastern Asia (China, Japan, Korea, etc.), as well as Native American and South American populations which migrated across the Berring Straight Arctic land bridge from Asia during the previous global ice age (hence, Native Americans and South Americans are, genetically, of Asian descent).

Educate yourself, and you'll die wiser. Knowledge is one of the few things you can take with you to the grave, so horde it! =)

Anonymous said...

Ha! 8) im japanese, my dad side of the family drinks a lot. Only a few people on my mom side has the allergy, and yup i got it. I got the NO RED FACE FORMULA, it didnt work for me. Plus part of the formula is taking pepcid AC..... duhh who dosent know that. Most times i get the flush, sometimes i dont. Its so random i dont know when Ill get it. Its not cool being able to drink whenever you want, but i try. Im still trying to figure out the best way to get rid of the reactions, so far its not going to well haha

Anonymous said...

Like many in this thread I too have an alcohol intolerance but I am not Asian! I am a pure bred Scot but also a Coeliac with dairy intolerance. My alcohol intolerance has been building up over, say, 15 years, probably the same timeline as both the CD and Dairy probs.

One glass of wine and I will have a headache up to 20mins later. Aspirins are then required and though I love my wine I am afraid that is a no-no just now. I am 62 and can't stand these headaches any more.

I read somewhere in the internet that milk intolerance and alocohol intolerance sometimes go hand in hand and that both Asians and Native Americans have difficulty digesting dairy? Maybe, once I have got dairy out of my system (I have been off dairy for two months) I might be able to take a glass or two of wine? Any comments anyone?

Anonymous said...

I live in Japan and my Japanese friends have the same flushing and intolerance. Not all but 75% of them.

They complain to me often about having to go to nomokais (work drinking parties) and being forced to drink.

jenny Reyes said...

I have no point to raise in against of what you have said.you possess lots of understanding on this subject.


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