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What Are Gin Blossoms?

By Natalie Smith, Ph.D. ; Updated July 27, 2017

Gin blossoms are an allergic reaction to alcohol that causes the face and neck--and sometimes other areas of the body such as the torso--to become red and warm. This condition is known as alcohol flush reaction or Asian flush reaction because of its high prevalence in the Asian population.

History of Alcohol Flush Reaction

Alcohol flush reaction has been known in the Asian populations for thousands of years, but no one knew what caused it until recently. In 2010, a researcher named Bing Su discovered that alcohol flush reaction has a genetic cause. The allele ADH1B*47 has a mutation that causes alcohol flush reaction, and that mutation developed around the same time as rice was first domesticated and fermented into alcohol. Bing Su theorizes that this reaction is an evolutionary development that has a protective effect against alcoholism, which is borne out by the fact that individuals with alcohol flush reaction have a lower risk of alcoholism.

Causes

Alcohol flush reaction is caused by an allergic reaction to alcohol. When you consume alcohol, your body starts a complex process to break it down. First, the alcohol is broken down into acetaldehyde by an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase, or ADH. Once that happens, a second enzyme called ADH2 breaks the acetaldehyde into acetic acid, and after that other enzymes break the acetic acid into carbon and water. The deficiency in people with alcohol flush reaction occurs with the ADH2. Instead of producing ADH2, a defective enzyme is produced. As a result, instead of being broken down, the acetaldehyde enters the bloodstream, where it causes the characteristic flush reaction.

Health Effects

Alcohol flush reaction is not a harmless flush. Acetaldehyde, the product of alcohol that is not broken down by the defective enzyme, is a toxic substance. In fact, acetaldehyde is even more toxic than alcohol and is the substance that causes a hangover. For those with alcohol flush reaction, facial flushing, sleepiness, increased heart rate, low blood pressure and dizziness can result from the buildup of acetaldehyde in the system, making them feel very ill even after a small amount of alcohol. Over time, the consumption of alcohol can lead to organ damage and even death.

Treatment

The best treatment for alcohol flush reaction is not to drink or to cease drinking once symptoms of the flush begin. Some sufferers advocate consuming starchy or sugary foods before drinking because the starch and sugar coat the stomach and keep the symptoms at bay. Others recommend taking products that contain Famotidine, an ingredient found in heartburn relief medications. These remedies no not prevent alcohol flush reaction, as they do not compensate for the defective enzyme, so the best solution remains to abstain from drinking.

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