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Face Flush Could Mean Bigger Risks for Asian Drinkers

L.A. Garment & Citizen, News Report, Sam Hassan Posted: Apr 19, 2009

Recent medical research indicates that approximately one-third of individuals of East Asian descent have an enzyme that's part of their personal body chemistry and causes their faces to flush after consuming alcohol.

But a red face isn't the only worry for these red-faced drinkers, because the same research indicates that they likely face a higher risk for developing esophageal cancer, too.

The study is the work of Philip Brooks of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a Bethesda, Maryland-based unit of the U.S. government's National Institutes of Health. Brooks recently conducted the study in conjunction with Akira Yokoyama of the Kurihama Alcohol Center in Japan.

Brooks said that a flushing of the face, nausea and heart palpitations often occur with individuals of East Asian descent because they have a variation of a certain gene that helps the body process alcohol.

"People are fairly well aware of this physical characteristic, which is sometimes called the Asian alcohol response, or the 'Asian flush,'" said Brooks. "[But] I don't think people are aware that it is a warning sign for being at risk of esophageal cancer when they drink alcohol."

Individuals of East Asian descent who exhibit the face flush and other symptoms in response to alcohol have a vastly increased risk of esophageal cancer, according to the research, with a rate that's nearly 90 times higher than the general population.

Individuals of East Asian descent who do not have the same gene variant won't likely exhibit symptoms such as flushing, nausea or heart palpitations. Yet they also remain at increased risk for esophageal cancer, with likelihood somewhere between six to 10 times greater than the rate for the general population, according to the research.

Brooks recommended that healthcare professionals should be aware of the link between face flushing and alcohol consumptions. He recommended that doctors ask any patients of East Asian descent whether they have a history of facial flushing when they drink alcohol.

The research also found that many Asian/Americans are first exposed to heavy drinking while in college, and Brooks said that campus-based healthcare professionals should be particularly aware of the possible link to esophageal cancer.

Sam Hassan is a writer for the L.A. Garment & Citizen.

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