What Causes That Ephemeral Facial Flush
Most people know that when alcohol is consumed, it is not easily processed by the stomach - instead, the liver is responsible for breaking it down into something consumable. The process by which the liver accomplishes this consumption is actually fairly simple, but surprisingly noxious.
H: Oxidation of Ethanol
Because ethanolEthanol is used in this discussion because it is the most common alcohol used as an intoxicating agent. cannot be easily digested, the body attempts to convert it to something more easily processed - acetic acid. The conversion of ethanol to acetic acid can be described by a two-step oxidation:
In organic chemistry, oxidation state refers to the heterolytic count of electrons on an atom. In this case, the central carbon has an oxidation state of -1, then +1, then +3. Generally, adding electronegative substituents to a hydrocarbon will oxidize the molecule.
This reaction requires two enzymes: alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase. We will soon see why these are important! In the meantime, let us not ignore the intermediate of this reaction -
As it turns out, acetaldehyde is responsible for many of the side effects experienced when consuming alcohol! Perhaps the most common, and most visible of these consequences is the alcohol flush responseOften referred to as Asian Glow or Asian Flush Syndrome. , delineated by reddish blotches on the face or other parts of the body. Referral of this condition as Asian Glow actually comes from the fact that a disproportionate number of Eastern Asians experience the syndrome.
Eastern Asians have a known genetic deficiency of aldehyde dehydrogenase, responsible for oxidizing toxic acetaldehydeNot only does significant amounts acetaldehyde cause facial flushing, it also induces nausea, headaches, is an irritant, and a likely carcinogen. into expendable acetic acid. When excess acetaldehyde accumulates, either because of a deficiency of aldehyde dehydrogenase or because of an excess of alcohol dehydrogenaseAn excess of alcohol dehydrogenase causes ethanol to oxidize to acetaldehyde more rapidly than acetaldehyde can be oxidized to acetic acid. , its toxic effects begin to significantly impact the human body.
Li: Side-Side Effects
it can’t be all bad… can it?!
It should be noted that formal research of this theory is currently developing, and there are some notable counter-evidences: for one, Native Americans are known to have an inordinately high rate of alcoholism, despite there being no enzymic differences between Native Americans and Whites.
No, it can’t. Reports have shown that Eastern Asian populations also have a disproportionately low rate of alcoholism - the prevailing theory, of course, is that a deficiency of aldehyde dehydrogenase leads to unpleasant consequences when consuming alcohol, driving individuals away from drinking more.
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