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Seeing Red

Posted Mar 26 2009 12:00am


By Megan Hess, feature writer

red-plastic-cup

It’s Saturday night, and you’ve already downed a few too many beers. The music is pulsating, and you can practically feel the droplets of sweat formulating on your forehead. In between songs, you duck in the bathroom to freshen up. As expected, your face is beet-red. But you may be facing more than a hot, happy buzz.

According to researchers, flushed faces after drinking alcohol may indicate an increased risk for a deadly throat cancer. It’s called squamous cell esophageal cancer, and is also caused by smoking.

Nausea and a rapid heartbeat are also symptoms associated with the inherited deficiency in an enzyme called ALDH2. This is a trait shared by more than a third of people of East Asian descent, including Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans. Just a half a bottle of beer can trigger the reaction.

Studies in Japan and Taiwan show that people who consistently experience red faces after drinking alcohol have increased risks of developing alcohol-related esophageal cancer. In some cases, especially with heavy drinkers, the risk may be up to 18 times greater. Nondrinkers, on the other hand, do not appear to have a higher risk of esophageal cancer. Reducing drinking can significantly reduce the likelihood of this cancer among Asian adults.

Anecdotal evidence proves that some teens ignore the flushing and continue to drink, which is likely to increase the incidence of esophageal cancer. But how do you know if you’ve simply got that healthy post-kegstand glow? Ask yourself whether you flush after drinking a glass of beer. If so, it’s worth seeing a doctor – you may be ALDH2-deficient.

 Megan Hess is a sophomore majoring in magazine journalism and international relations. She is the managing editor of Jerk Magazine and also writes for The Daily Orange and 360 Magazine. She was an editorial intern at Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine, where she had several articles published, and a media relations intern at the Office of the Mayor in Syracuse, NY. As a features blogger, she will cover issues ranging from food phenomena to electric cars to Obama’s carbon footprints.

Her e-mail is mehess@syr.edu.
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