When it comes to inconvenient “Asian genes,” I totally got screwed over. I’m not very tall, I’ve worn glasses since the fourth grade, I’m lactose intolerant, and worst of all, I’m afflicted with low alcohol tolerance and a super incriminating Asian glow. I can’t drink more than one light beer without turning bright red. I’m the girl who gets tipsy after a Blue Moon and a half, and I can’t take shots without getting a headache and hearing my ears ringing. The first time I drank in college, my roommates, who were non-Asian and had barely any Asian friends growing up, thought I was drunk even though I was barely buzzed. Asian glow is not only irritating and physically uncomfortable, but it can be a little embarrassing, especially during office happy hours. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like being the resident office drunk or that glowy girl at networking events. I’m not drunk, I’m just Asian!
The obvious solution here is to reduce your alcohol intake, and if you decide to take the 100 percent sober route, I respect that. There are, however, options for those of us who’d like to enjoy a glass of wine without social humiliation (and the neck-burning sensation).
Some quick factoids: “Asian Glow” occurs in people who lack acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2), an enzyme typically responsible for processing acetaldehyde, a component of metabolized (or broken-down) alcohol. Research shows that ALDH2-deficient people who drink more than two beers a day are six to 10 times more susceptible of esophageal cancer than someone who is not deficient in ALDH2. If, like me, you have a glow problem, consider the following advice against the potential long-term dangers of drinking excessively.
To prove I’m not exaggerating about my Asian glow, here’s a picture of me after I’d had half of ONE martini:
So, that’s me back when I was a newb (a LEGAL newb, mind you). Getting rid of Asian glow is a largely preventative measure. Once you start glowing, it’s hard to get back to your normal color unless you stop drinking altogether and just guzzle down water.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the old Pepcid/Tums/Rolaids trick — that is, to take an acid reducer 45 minutes before your first drink. At first I thought it was BS, since a ton of websites claimed the it was just a placebo, but now I fully endorse taking them as a means of alleviating the glow. Since I’ve tried a number of different brands, I thought I’d provide a quick review of each. All are available at your local drugstore.
Rolaids: This was the first drug people recommended online, and it does not work at all. Zero out of five stars.
Tums: I really wanted this one to work because Tums are cheaper than many other acid reducers. A few of my Korean friends swear by them, but again, Tums did nothing for me. I was still red as ever.
Pepcid AC: A lot of partiers take this, and I’ll admit that it works…a little. I still got pink, but my face didn’t feel like it was burning, nor did my head hurt as much. It wasn’t a miracle-worker by any means, though, and I suspect it only worked because I ate a lot of food right before taking it.
Pepcid Complete: AAAAND here’s where I start gushing. This stuff is MAGICAL. Take it 30 – 45 minutes before your first drink, and you won’t look like the drunkest person in the room anymore. I’m no pharm expert, but I suspect the “dual action” (alleviates heartburn and indigestion) has something to do with it. Not only do I not get flushed, but I don’t get headaches, I don’t feel dizzy, and I don’t feel that queer ringing in my ear. This makes for a far more comfortable drinking experience, which means that I feel less tired and nauseous as well. I can’t claim that Pepcid Complete gives me a higher alcohol tolerance, but I can definitely drink more easily knowing that I won’t have to deal with flush-associated symptoms. Five stars out of five. I cannot recommend Pepcid Complete enough.
If you’re not convinced, look at my profile picture on the right. That was taken at Pocha in NYC, where they serve watermelon soju inside a carved-out watermelon shell. See how I’ve finished my share and I’m holding the watermelon? My face is a normal color because I took Pepcid Complete beforehand. If you’ll compare that to the picture I added earlier, you’ll notice that there’s a big difference in my complexion.
A quick disclaimer: the danger in taking these supplements is that you’ll drink even more than you body naturally allows, which could get you into trouble. Don’t let Pepcid Complete, otherwise the savior of my dignity, enable you into doing something stupid. For those of you who can drink responsibly, though, I hope they’ll make the experience a bit more comfortable. Also, acid reducers work more effectively when combined with the usual safety measures, like drinking lots of water and consuming alcohol only on a full stomach, so make sure you eat dinner beforehand!
I know Asians aren’t the only ones who get glowy. I have a fair-skinned Norwegian friend who swears that Norwegians get it too, but I haven’t heard of any non-Asians taking acid reducers to get rid of the glow. I wonder if it works for them too. Non-Asians, care to give some input?
Do you get glowy when you drink? What’s your tolerance like, and how do you keep from getting sick/super red?