Why Does My Face Get Red When I Drink
“If you’ve ever had one alcoholic beverage, you know how quickly it can lead to another — and another after that. One glass of wine leads to a night out with friends…then more drinks at home…and then maybe even a few drinks on the way home from said night out. Before you know it, you’re tipsy as hell.
Alcoholism affects about 7 percent of American adults. But what happens when we drink? Why do some people get flushed when they drink or feel sick afterward? And why does drinking sometimes make our faces redder than usual? We’ll answer those questions and more next.
Blame Your Genes
The culprit behind flushing and redness when you drink isn’t any kind of bacteria lurking around your mouth. Instead, it’s something inside your body.
Your body contains several different types of enzymes, proteins that help convert chemical compounds into energy. Aldehyde dehydrogenases (ALDHs), which are found throughout the human body, play a big role in breaking down a compound known as acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is produced naturally by the breakdown of ethanol during the metabolism process. It’s also created when foods are heated to high temperatures, such as during cooking. The two main types of aldehyde dehydrogenases are ALDH1 and ALDH2.
In most people, all of their cells contain active copies of both genes for these enzymes. However, if you inherit only one functional copy of either gene, this could affect the functioning of your liver. This condition has been linked to facial flushing and red skin when people drink alcohol. So, what exactly causes this phenomenon?
One possibility has to do with the structure of your DNA. Some people inherit nonfunctional versions of the ALDH1 or ALDH2 genes. These mutations prevent them from producing enough of the enzyme needed to metabolize alcohol. As a result, the amount of acetaldehyde builds up inside their bodies. When they ingest alcohol, too much acetaldehyde gets released into the bloodstream. The excess acetaldehyde travels through the blood toward tissues where it will be converted back into carbon dioxide and water. In the liver, however, there isn’t enough of the right type of ALDH present to properly break down the acetaldehyde. The end result is a build-up of toxic substances in the blood and tissue fluids.
Other possibilities include genetic factors, environmental influences and lifestyle choices. For example, people who don’t consume alcohol often experience less redness and swelling than drinkers. Also, consuming alcohol with meals rather than fasting before going out increases the risk of flushing. Smoking cigarettes can trigger flushing reactions, while drinking caffeinated beverages can increase the effects of alcohol on the face. Finally, some people simply seem to be predisposed to developing redness when they drink. If your family members have experienced flushing or other side effects from alcohol consumption, researchers believe you may be prone to experiencing similar problems yourself.
So now we know what’s causing the problem, but what can you do about it? Read on to find out.
Reduce Flushes With Diet
Many people think that eating spicy food reduces flushing caused by drinking alcohol. While this may be true in certain cases, spicy foods aren’t always good for your face. They can actually aggravate the situation. Alcohol makes the lining of your stomach swell. Eating hot peppers, chilies and spices forces that fluid upward against the swollen stomach wall. That puts extra pressure on the stomach’s exit valve, forcing the contents outward instead of downward. The same goes for the digestive tract, esophagus and the area surrounding your windpipe. You can avoid this effect by taking small bites of food and chewing thoroughly until your saliva dilutes the flavors.
Another dietary trick that seems to help many people is avoiding fatty foods. Drinking alcohol along with food containing fat can produce an unpleasant reaction. Fatty acids combine with alcohol to form acetic acid, which irritates the lining of the stomach. To reduce this effect, eat foods like raw vegetables, salads and lean meat. Eat slowly, chew each bite well and take smaller sips of liquid between bites so that the fats stay mixed together.
There are no hard and fast rules for preventing facial flushing or rashes. Most doctors recommend following a healthy diet and exercise regimen and maintaining a balanced weight to improve overall health. By doing so, you may enjoy having a drink without worrying about your complexion later.”