Apparently, "Asian flush" is a condition that makes the faces of people with Asian heritage bright red after they consume alcohol.
This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands
I'm not an alcoholic and even if I for some morbid reason wanted to become one, I couldn't. The main reason I never wind up waking up on a train, all confused and covered in vomit is pretty simple actually. I'm of East Asian heritage and when I drink, my face turns bright red. It's quite hard to predict at which exact point during my boozing this happens, but it always happens. Sometimes it only takes a single sip of Pimm's for my face to change colour, other times I can do half a bottle of tequila before any visible symptoms appear. It's hard to say. Besides a pair of furiously red cheeks, alcohol gives me heart palpitations and makes me feel as if my skin is hot. Some people look really ugly when they cry – I'm an ugly drinker.
Eighty percent of all East Asians have overactive alcohol dehydrogenase enzymes in their stomach and liver. These enzymes convert alcohol into poisonous ethanal a hundred times faster than usual. Thanks to these overzealous enzymes, your body skips right past the pleasant effects of alcohol and immediately moves onto the headaches and nausea that are usually reserved for a hangover.
There's also quite a big chance that you suffer from another hereditary defect: about half of all East Asians, including myself, have broken acetaldehyde dehydrogenase enzymes. This enzyme normally concentrates the toxic ethanal in your body into harmless acetate. But a shortage of acetaldehyde dehydrogenase means that the ethanal builds up and your veins widen, resulting in a glowing red tomato face, often referred to as "Asian flush" or "Asian glow". It doesn't just look awkward – the ethanal build-up also greatly increases your risk of stomach cancer.
For an Asian like me, all these genetic fuck-ups raise a whole bunch of social stigmas when it comes to getting hammered. Whenever I'm somewhere where there are few, or no other, Asians (for instance: a UKIP luncheon) there's always that one person who notices that I'm blushing and playfully squeezes at my shoulder while yelling "Time to lay off the sauce, mate".
According to the internet, there are a few solutions for these issues (except for the stomach cancer, which basically anyone can get from drinking too much). The obvious ones being abstinence (yawn), pacing yourself (no chance), not drinking liquor (fuck that) and not drinking on an empty stomach.
Another thing you can try is taking this special ulcer medication 45 minutes before you start drinking. Basically, it prevents your veins from widening. But if I was to do that, then I'd be mixing alcohol with pills – something that literally every single doctor ever has warned you against.
There's also one genius who suggested wearing green make-up in order to balance out the redness. But then I'd have to plaster myself with some weird green goo every-time I wanted to drink a pint and that's just not going to happen. One of the better suggestions I've seen is just to edit all the photos that have been taken of me on a night out. I can just make them sepia, I guess. That or apply one of those sad black-and-white Instagram filters on every single picture on my phone.
A lot of business-savvy entrepreneurs have to tried to cash in on this problem with a variety of concoctions meant to prevent Asian glow. One of them is an American named Jen Du, who recently reached her crowd-funding campaign goal and is currently working on Before Elixir. She sent me a few samples, so I decided to give it a try.
The author before and after a mojito. Photo courtesy of the author.
• 1 mojito
• 4 bottles of beer
• An unknown number of Jägermeister Spice shots.
I decided to start my first day of product-testing in a Mexican restaurant. What better way to kick things off than a mound of grease? As per the instructions, I poured all 237 ml off my Before Elixir into a glass and necked the whole thing 30 before minutes before I was set to start boozing. It was both sweet and bitter but not all that bad.
After half a mojito, I didn't feel the familiar warming of skin and heart palpitations, but my head did start to turn red. Luckily my facial glow didn't get any worse as the evening went on and for some reason I managed to wake up without a hangover the next morning. That could have something to do with the mountain of nachos I had also ingested though.
•3 La Chouffe
•2 shots of Brandy
On the second day of my drinking experiment, the elixir tasted completely different. The sweet raspberry flavour was completely gone. I checked the website and it turned out that the elixir contained both raspberries and pomegranate, but also mangosteen, milk thistle and a whole load of vitamins. When I raised the bottle to my lips to try and drink the thing, I could smell pencil erasers, week-old pickled eggs and some weird whiff of apocalyptic sulphur fumes. This array of smells didn't disappear until I downed the whole thing.
That time, I decided to take the elixir a full hour before I got to drinking. Apparently, that was too early for my body, and the fact that I hadn't eaten anything didn't help. So the rest of the night was full of all the usual Asian flush symptoms and the bike ride home was just as hard as on any other night after the pub. I woke up to a sink full of vomit.
A box full of Before Elixir. Photo courtesy of the author.
• 7 bottles of beer
• 2.5 racks of spare ribs
• 2 gin and tonics
The potion's creator, Jen, encourages people to mix the anti-glow fluid with other liquids. She recommends rum, vodka and gin. I like to mix it with coke – mainly so it doesn't stink like a wet dog.
After a few office beers, I ended up tipsy with half of my body covered in red splotchy patches. At least I didn't feel my heart pounding off my chest. Eating two pounds of spare ribs in between drinks didn't help either. I just thanked god that it was the weekend and I could sleep in.
• 1 glass of red wine
• 1/2 bottle of house wine
At this stage, I've lost faith in this liquid entirely but decide to give it one last go. According to Jen, Before Elixir doesn't work with wine, because wine contains sulphates and allergens that will make anyone's face flush. Tonight seems like a good opportunity to put that theory to the test.
As it turns out, Jen is right. My drinking partner thought I was overreacting, but about fifteen minutes after my first glass of Merlot, the skin around my eyes slowly started to turn red. She laughed loudly as this massive throbbing vein suddenly appeared by my temple. I felt a bit like the Hulk, just in a different colour scheme.
Before Elixir does seem to prevent a few symptoms like heart palpitations and burning skin, but alcohol still turns my face bright red. I guess I'll have to give the green make-up a shot. That or just stop moaning. Although the crying itself isn't really a problem; I may be an ugly drinker, but I'm a beautiful crier.