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Tue, 04/19/2011 - 15:41 by Ananth in response to bargle

We went out for our pal Rachelle's birthday on Saturday - karaoke and everything, it was a lot of fun! Yuko rarely drinks because of how she responded to alcohol once in college - she skipped all the fun parts and went straight to bargling. After it happened again over the weekend (despite having plenty of water and a full stomach) I decided to do some research.

Asian alcohol intolerance is real (to varying degrees for different people) and is caused by a gene mutation. It affects only part of the Asian population. The liver produces two enzymes to break down alcohol - the first enzyme converts the alcohol to acetaldehyde, and second enzyme converts acetaldehyde to acetic acid (which can eventually be broken down into carbon dioxide and water). People with the gene mutation have decreased activity of the second enzyme, which means that they experience a buildup of acetaldehyde - toxic in large quantities. The flushing that comes with drinking is a sign that the body is trying to expel the buildup of toxin through sweating (vomiting in extreme cases). Further reading below (it was tough to find good sources but I think these worked out):

I'm curious to hear from any of you who know more or have had similar experiences, especially any of you whose experience has been more to the extreme. 

CMYcat t-shirts are almost sold out! There are a couple of Mens' Large and XL tees left. But not to worry! We put in an order for more yesterday, and while we're at it we're bringing back the Hokusai tees! I'll post about it ahead of restocking - it'll be some time in the next few weeks. 

That's all from us! We'll be playing a bit of catch-up over the next couple of days, but I'll drop in and respond to comments when I can. Til Thursday!



Comment by ThunderGodNick (not verified) Thu, 04/21/2011 - 15:28



Comment by Robert V Aldrich (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 06:32

Nice research, man. Thanks!

I'm half Vietnamese with a

Comment by anon (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 07:21

I'm half Vietnamese with a mix of Cherokee and German for the other half. And I gotta say, when I drink just one beer. I not only get the red face, I get red eyes too. Then there's the almost passing out, headache, tunnel vision, exhaustion, rapid heart beat that pounds in my ears, and the asthma like symptoms. I seriously thought I was going to die from asphyxiation. x_x

Aw, I hope Yuko felt better

Comment by Anonymous (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 07:23

Aw, I hope Yuko felt better soon. I had never heard of Asian alcohol intolerance - good strip!

Poor Yuko :(

Comment by Alison (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 07:28

I hope you didn't feel awful for too long. The bargles are the worst :\

Vietnamese and bargle-free

Comment by Anonymous (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 07:33

I'm vietnamese and I've never had the hinderance of the low alcohol tolerance suffered by my other asian colleagues. I do get flushed certainly, but never had to deal with the problem of getting sick off a smallish amount of drink.

I can drink a fair amount and come out the next morning feeling fine and dandy. No one else in my family suffers hangovers so I guess it's just cuz we're cool Southeast Asians.

Whoo us!

Boyfriend - 1/2 Japanese One

Comment by Dani (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 07:50

Boyfriend - 1/2 Japanese
One shot or half a beer and he's the very definition of drunk, has the glow and gets sick, poor guy.

Boyfriend's Mom - Full Japanese
Drinks Sangria and beer with the best of them and does not get the glow or sick.

Me - German/Irish

what bargling?

Comment by kat (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 07:54

For me (I'm Chinese), it's always been

few ounces of alcohol --> turn bright red
(seriously, the guys at the Coors brewery tour refused to give me another 6-ounce sample when they saw my face after the first one)

more than a few ounces of alcohol --> get dizzy, fall asleep

No happy buzz, but no drunkenness or bargling either. Poor Yuko; it sounds extremely unpleasant!

I deal with it by... not drinking alcohol. I'm very popular as a designated driver.


Comment by Shiny (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 07:58

My cousin's nickname is Raccoon due to the area around his eyes going bright red and it's kinda funny.

As for me, my 18th is soon so I have had one drink so far. According to my family I started going red instantly, so yep, same as my cousin

I have this one friend who

Comment by Anonymous (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 08:04

I have this one friend who is quarter Japanese/ quarter Korean / quarter Chinese/ quarter Vietnamese and he is the most alcohol intolerant person I've ever met. For the longest time he had no interest in drinking but one evening he asked for a glass of wine. He only got halfway through the glass. He was a mess he turned bright red instantly and started talking to our one friend as if he was Peter Parker questioning him about his spider powers. But the scariest part was thirty minutes after his initial redness, he got really cold and started shaking for over an hour. He eventually threwup and we got him lots of water, but I've never seen anyone, Asian or otherwise react that badly to alcohol ever before. Needless to say he hasn't had any alcohol since.


Comment by Nico (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 08:21

Well that explains everything. I'm Korean and my mom and dad go through the same thing...sadly enough I too go through the same thing. Although recently I think I've a stronger tolerance than my mom. She claims it to be allergies to alcohol. Beer is a no go for me since I dislike carbonated drinks...and cheap wine is gross and any cheap liquor is bad...but for some odd reason I can tolerate hard liquor like Jack Daniels or Jager but in extremely small quantities.


Comment by KS (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 08:23

I didn't know Yuko spoke DINOSAUR!

Having European ancestry is

Comment by Craig (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 08:26

Having European ancestry is pretty awesome when it comes to drinking, haha. Although I have an opposite problem of wasting a lot of money when I'm trying to get drunk at a place with expensive drinks, but I drink them too slow, and wind up 100% sober and 100% broke. So frustrating.

On a more relevant note, my ex-girlfriend was 100% chinese and would get the "asian flush" pretty bad, but it would always be after the 1st or 2nd drink, and then would go away once she was drunk, and I never heard her complain of any painful or sick symptoms.

Like a tomato

Comment by s.akuma (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 09:37

Yup I'm Chinese and I suffer from the flush. The smallest amount of alcohol would cause my face to heat up and turn red. Be it vodka or beer. Although I guess I'm a mild case. I never gotten drunk or felt the wrath of the bargle. The effects of the flush usually go away after 30 minutes for me after I stop drinking.

This reaction is actually

Comment by Chris (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 09:40

This reaction is actually the basis of all those "aversion therapy" alcohol treatment centers. They give you a pill that supresses the 2nd enzyme to make you sick on purpose.

It is also the reason that drinking wood alcohol makes you go blind. The methyl alcohol you get from wood breaks down into formaldehyde instead of acetaldehyde.

That's really interesting!

Comment by Ananth Wed, 04/20/2011 - 10:10

That's really interesting! Also terrible, but interesting. Thanks!


Comment by Kira (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 09:56

I wish I was somewhere in between. I'm Dutch, Polish, and English and i have the toughest time getting any kind of buzz from alcohol. I can kill a bottle of tequila and not feel a thing. The only time i was able to get anything out of drinking recently was when me and my bf split a tower of margaritas with a handle of tequila in it.

Only particular asians.

Comment by DudeFromtheFlipside (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 09:59

I'm from the Philippines and I can definitely vouch that this usually happens to those of East Asian decent(Korea, China and Japan mostly.)

Fils in general have a pretty high tolerance for alcohol, I've seen women down the 55% lambanog (distilled coconut liquor) like water without any worse for wear. But your mileage may varyy as I have no idea how it affects other Southeastasianers.


Comment by emptyhaven (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 10:19

This would explain a lot.
I get all red and sweaty after just one shot of anything.
I thought it was just a low tolerance or an allergy to alcohol or something, but apparently it may be this instead.

Thank you for that.

Someone correct me if I'm

Comment by Anonymous (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 10:23

Someone correct me if I'm wrong about anything here, but I think there's something missing from those links and explanation. I believe each of those enzymes you describe are diploid pairs in most non-Asians, and should one of the two pairs not operate due to mutation or other reasons the diploid pair will still operate at half power. In Asians it's a quadraploid pair and should any one of the four set enzymes not operate then the whole quadraploid pair will operate at 0% efficiency.

My reaction: Tend to get

Comment by Yenian (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 10:25

My reaction: Tend to get really nauseous, have terrible gas, and can't sleep much/at all because of it. Never vomited, just felt likes I was going to. Alcohol just isn't worth it. It developed over time near the end of undergrad.

I flush like crazy...

Comment by Caitlin (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 10:43

but my tolerance is pretty good; about what you'd expect of a 5'4 girl. I'm Caucasian, with a good amount of Scottish/Irish in me, and I'm told that the flushing is due to rosacea rather than an alcohol intolerance. So it's possible to have the embarrassing flushing without the intolerance, and beer seems to cause the worst flushing. I may also be a little allergic as I often get a stuffy nose too, but that's never stopped me :P

Sciencey type answer.

Comment by Big John (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 10:51

There are lots of factors that relate to a person's alcohol tolerance. Coming from a family of doctors, alcoholics, and doctor/alcoholics, I've some passing familiarity with it.

The first is genetics. Scientists in Scotland have identified a gene which, if mutated, results in the well-known alcohol glow. The gene has been aptly named "hangover". When dealing with a normal hangover gene, the liver produces an enzyme called acetaldehyde dehydrogenase. Your liver normally takes alcohol and turns it into acetaldehyde, which is about 30 times more toxic than regular alcohol. If you've got the normal hangover gene, the acetaldehyde dehydrogenase enzyme your liver produces renders the acetaldehyde down into something chemically identical to vinegar, which you pee out.

We don't know why there's a disparity, but about 1 in 20 people of European descent have a mutated hangover gene. 1 in 3 people of Asian descent have a mutated hangover gene. This varies from one Asian ethnicity to another, but it is the source of the stereotypical "Asians are lightweights" belief.

In a person with a mutated hangover gene, the liver produces only a fraction of the acetaldehyde dehydrogenase enzyme that it should. So the liver goes ahead and converts the alcohol into acetaldehyde as normal, but then it's got nowhere to go for a while. Remember, this junk is seriously toxic, so your body responds as if it's being poisoned. Because it is. In an effort to detox as quickly as it can, it causes inflammation and sends as much fluid to your extremities and skin in order to keep the poison away from your major organs. If that doesn't work, it starts emptying the body of its contents any way it can. Hence one nasty hangover after only one shot of whiskey.

I used to be able to handle ten or eleven shots in an evening and be fine the next day. Then I was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, did the whole chemotherapy thing, and now find some nights one shot will make me drunk and other times a whole bottle of whiskey won't do the job. Obviously someone as devoted to inebriation as I was obligated to figure out what was going on. Apparently there are things your body can do or not do which drastically alters how much booze you can handle at one time.

The biggest thing is it plans ahead. We now know that when a "lightweight" takes a drink, his/her body doesn't react until the alcohol is in his/her bloodstream and on its way to the liver. As such, the liver has to work to catch up to the drinker. A "heavyweight's" kidneys will immediately alter their function the second the alcohol hits the stomach. This increases the fluid volume of the blood and helps dilute the alcohol. It also makes sure there's plenty of water for the liver to work with when breaking down the booze. Also, when a heavyweight takes that first drink, his/her liver kicks into overdrive so it's got one helluva head start.

Things to do to help avoid the glow: take Pepcid AC, it will reduce the rate at which your stomach can put the booze into your bloodstream, allowing your liver to get to work well ahead of the rush. Take plenty of water, niacin, and vitamin B12. These are the primary ingredients your liver needs to produce the acetaldehyde dehydrogenase enzyme. Having lots of building blocks on hand will help it account for its slow nature.

And if you're a heavyweight and wanna get drunk for cheap, drink something with lots of sugar. Sugar is a large molecule which preoccupies both the kidneys and liver, slowing their function down to that of a normal person. Just don't go crying to me when you wake up with a hangover like continents colliding.

I'm not asian but my father

Comment by Anonymous (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 11:21

I'm not asian but my father is Italian, and apparently in some Italians in specific regions have this mutation as well. I am one of them. I don't feel a buzz when I consume alcohol & I just generally end up feeling ill. I do not drink at all to avoid bargling in general >_>

smoked meats vs fermented fruits - FIGHT!

Comment by Ash (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 11:28

We talked about those same two processed in a genetics class. I've read that this is related to what your ancestors ate. If they lived in a warm climate and ate lots of fruit, they ended up eating lots of fermented fruit, so they had to metabolize the alchohol in the fermented fruit. If your ancesotrs ate lots of smoked meats, they can handle the toxic byproducts of alchohol better because smoked meats contain some of those same toxins.

I'm a rediculous mix of things - 1/2 Irish, 1/4 German, mix in Native American (Chippewa), French, Scottish, Swedish.

I hold my liquor well enough for me. I get red quick, giggly before I finish the glass of wine, but I stay that way until I go back to normal. Even splitting a bottle of strong wine with my boyfriend, I haven't felt any sickness. I assume if I drank myself stupid I would feel it in the morning, but I'd rather not attempt that. I ususually don't drink more than a glass or two of wine every few weeks, so I don't think I've built up some extreme tolerance. I get red VERY easily from other things (embarassment, exercise, etc) so that might play into why I get red but don't feel sick.

I'm half white and half

Comment by outoferis (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 12:16

I'm half white and half korean, guess which side of the family i got my drinking ability from?

yeah, definitely get red in the face and ears start to burn, get hot and sweaty after one drink. after 2-3 bitch beers i'm ready to fall over and throw up. only takes one fruity high alcohol content drink to get me ready to pass out and vomit. yay! go asians!

i don't drink much. :|

Asian Glow

Comment by Anonymous (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 12:28

I can attest to asian intolerance, my step-dad is half vietnamese and half french and one glass of wine gets him glowing like a light bulb, his face gets puffy too and his eyes get all blood shot. Luckily though he usually doesn't go past that one glass so I've never been too worried for his health, but I'm sure if he tried any stronger alcohol, like what was most likely in Yuko's fruity drink, he would have had a bad time of it too.

More Sciencey Goodness

Comment by Another Science Geek (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 13:37

Another fun thing regarding the alcohol metabolizing enzymes is that you can "train" them to be more or less active at specific times. i.e. If you always drink in the evenings your body will ramp up production of the enzymes in preparation for the event.

This is why you will get drunker faster when drinking at unusual times.

So the moral of this is to drink regularly on a schedule! (sorry dear, I have to drink tonight or my enzymes will get all out of whack..)

I dont drink so I dont know

Comment by Anonymous (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 14:54

I dont drink so I dont know what would happen to me, but my boyfriend is half chinese and rarely drinks but cause just a tiny bit of wine makes him tipsy and any more makes him sick.

I'm a caucasian gal,

Comment by Anonymous (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 15:06

I'm a caucasian gal, English/Irish/Scottish. I can drink a fair bit without bargling, but I absolutely get flushed and sweaty the moment I have any kind of alcohol - and once, I had a sip from a glass of wine, and not only did I get the red face/overheating but my face actually swelled up and began to itch. I was terrified! I don't drink anymore.

I'm completely Korean. At

Comment by Anonymous (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 15:56

I'm completely Korean. At uni, I was with my friends and we were living it up after midterms. My friend made a fruity drink with very little alcohol in it. It was the first time I had ever had any form of alcohol and it was one of the worst experiences probably for my entire life. I had one sip, maybe two sips max and my stomach was full from pizza. I passed out maybe 10 minutes after. My friends freaked out. I had turned completely red and had problems breathing (I was told that I had stopped breathing at one point). I ended up being taken to the hospital.

I haven't had a drop of alcohol since.

Alcohol allergies

Comment by pale corbie (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 16:12

...also exist outside the asian population - a white friend of mine can't drink so much as punch without going straight to bargle.

I'm a basic Caucasian mutt

Comment by Puffin (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 17:38

I'm a basic Caucasian mutt and I feel woozy/achy even if I have just a sip or two. I've never drank enough to see if it's my mind playing tricks or something serious. (And I don't enjoy the taste so I just stay away.) My father though is allergic to not the alcohol but the preservatives.

But aaah- asian glow. I've never read why before- but I have a good number of ethnically Chinese friends who get this real bad. It's all over the board though: one friend could drink someone twice her size under, but another is glowing after a few sips.


Comment by Lusus Naturae (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 19:55

Me: Northern European decent, mostly Germanic/Scandinavian: Can drink like a fish, no surprises there.

My Fiance: Chinese. Can drink but generally prefers not to (but has decided to learn how to appreciate, due to having gotten a job in the tech industry).

My good friend: Some Japanese, also various European backgrounds: Hoo boy. Give that boy a glass of red wine and you'll need a tent in your bathroom 'cos he'll be camping in there for a while.

Aren't genetics fun?

Party irish.. oh, wait, no

Comment by Mel (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 19:57

I gotta say, I rock the Irish BUT I think people don't realise how much booze tolerance (in the non-enzyme way, I mean) is based on weight. I lost a lot of weight over the course of 3 years, and went from PARTY IRISH SUCKAHS to drunk after a drink.

<__< >___>

Look at it this way, alcohol tolerance isn't NORMAL. Yuko is just more au natural and the rest of us are freaks designed to drink POISON

100% Chinese

Comment by That Guy (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 23:01

I'm 100% Chinese and I have a pretty good alcohol tolerance. So far, my mom is the only person who can keep up with me. Though, almost all of my relatives have a similar tolerance.

When I went to Japan, I was hanging with a lot of Asians (primarily Japanese, but plenty of Koreans and Chinese too), and they could all handle their liquor. In fact, the Japanese may be the booziest people I've ever met.

Though, I know plenty of Asian people who have almost no alcohol tolerance. So there may be some truth to this alcohol intolerance gene.


Comment by Kristal (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 23:32

Man, that sucks for Yuko that she got a hangover. Sorry to hear that! :( I've never drank before, but I'd imagine I'd probably have a similar reaction to hers. Hope she's feeling better!

On another note, I got my CMYcat shirt in the mail today. I was so excited, it's so amazing! I can't wait to wear it to my graphic design classes, ahaha.


Comment by Daniel (not verified) Wed, 04/20/2011 - 23:41

I'm 100% Chinese and 17, haven't drunk any alcohol yet.
*reads comic*

Heard about...

Comment by GoGoRainbow (not verified) Thu, 04/21/2011 - 01:26

This one asian businessman who would have to "train" before big meetings or conferences so that he'd be able to have wine with dinner without falling asleep at the table (which he did with a big client!). Most liver enzymes can be induced; in this case, by drinking small amounts of alcohol each day for a week before the event so maybe if Yuko trained and used some of the other techniques, she could enjoy herself =)

Good luck!

Not sure if this even COUNTS anymore...

Comment by KittyMaverick (not verified) Thu, 04/21/2011 - 02:52

I have no idea if I even have the Asian flush syndrome...because I don't even need to drink to get drunk...
And I don't drink in general, period. I've never drank a single drop in my life (I'm 20 at the moment, 1 month to 21, but Canada's drinking age is different, so yeah. Oh, and I'm 100% born and raised Asian), but....

My story so far includes:
1) Getting sick just from smelling beer while living in a university dorm. I ended up lying on the bed passed out for the rest of the evening.
2) Getting hyperactive in a drunk manner at a friend's Christmas dinner after being in the same room with wine in wine glasses. This is without taking a sip of wine.
3) Ended up with lack of decision making abilities after being exposed to some cocktail that had a high alcohol content. I was lucid, but my judgement was so heavily impaired...I ended up taking up a cosplay that would end up taking a huge chuck of my study time... Again, this is without drinking...

The moral of the story: None of my friends now drink in my presence. Or if they will, they sit at the other end of the room, far away from me... while I sit next to a well ventilated window.

So, I don't think I'll ever find out if I truly have the Asian Flush or not...*laughs*
Maybe it's best I never drink to find out; an ambulance may be necessary.

I have sort of the opposite

Comment by Anonymous (not verified) Thu, 04/21/2011 - 03:04

I have sort of the opposite reaction- my dad is a Finn, and my mom's side is Scotts-Irish. I have been able to drink up the wazoo and never had any sort of problem (except that one time, but I think it may have been slight alcohol poisoning. Never let a drunk person make your drinks).

I have no problems, but I

Comment by foe (not verified) Thu, 04/21/2011 - 03:28

I have no problems, but I guess this explains why my Chamorro grandmother would have a glass of champagne and end up talking to non-existant frogs in the gutter.

My boyfriend's a scientist

Comment by Debbie (not verified) Thu, 04/21/2011 - 04:20

My boyfriend's a scientist and he says it's all to do with how our ancestors sterilised water, eastern cultured boiled it, western cultures mixed it with poison and got pissed.

When he did his Masters course all but 2 of his course mates were Indian and when we went out you could map where everyone was from and there would be a line across the middle of India, one side had the gene, the others bargled.

It's true!

Comment by Juliana Emy (not verified) Thu, 04/21/2011 - 06:21

My mom can´t drink alcohol because of this. Thank god it skipped my generation xD

Lush Flush

Comment by nerdular (not verified) Thu, 04/21/2011 - 07:31

Half German, half Thai. I'm pretty sure after one drink, my flushing face can be seen from space. Despite this, I have a pretty decent tolerance. After a cruise to Cozumel and over 9000 complimentary margaritas, my friends commented that my face had gone from red to somewhat purple.

I did not bargle, however. It is probably after that point that any further drinking results in sudden toilet worshiping.

Strangely, though, I've never had a hangover. Lingering drunken-ness and beet-face, yes, but no headaches or barglesprees or anything of that nature. Perhaps I am a mutant?

Makes me glad I'm part Irish and German...

Comment by ThunderGodNick (not verified) Thu, 04/21/2011 - 09:30

Euro mutt for the win I guess.

I do sympathize with Yuko though, I go through the same motions after Tequila. Although I don't think there isn't a soul who isn't prone to an absolute crap storm when they drink that stuff.

i have this very same

Comment by 88infinity (not verified) Thu, 04/21/2011 - 09:40

i have this very same problem and drinking is Very Unpleasant for me, i usually get a racing heartbeat, flushing, headache, and Barfy feelings after only *1/3* can of *BEER*!!! :-0

i'm so sensitive to it that i also got these same symptoms
[minus the nausea] after eating a catered lunch at *WORK* of wine-marinated shish-kebabs!!! XD

on the flipside, my sis can drink *VODKA* and be completely fine with it and i have also seen my mom down an entire bottle of Plum Wine in one sitting!!!

Father & Son

Comment by kellydoodle (not verified) Thu, 04/21/2011 - 10:46

My boyfriend is half-Chinese and half-Caucasian. He can cycle through the entire drunk process in about an hour on about three mixed drinks - I've never seen him do anything harder than that. His cheeks glow red and he acts drunk within 1-2 drinks and is ready to pass out by the third. If I wake him before he sleeps it off, he will vomit and go back to sleep, eventually waking with a hangover. His father will vomit with just the scent of whiskey - he's full Chinese. However, my boyfriend's younger brother and older sister can both drink to excess without an issue whereas his youngest brother has the same issue with red cheeks.

You learn something new

Comment by AmericanLink (not verified) Thu, 04/21/2011 - 11:02

You learn something new everyday! :O

I guess that's where I get lucky? Dunno. I really don't drink myself. I find it more fun to be the one sober one encouraging the antics of the inebriated ones, while holding the camera.

You know I'm not convinced Yuko's friend hit her hang over yet.

Comment by Sprite37 (not verified) Thu, 04/21/2011 - 18:46

Me and my friend's convinced she's actually still drunk, cause I don't think I'd be skipping if the world looked like PeeWee's playhouse. Smiling Buildings dude.