Are the Taiwanese the worst drinkers?

Research conducted by the medical school at Stanford University points out nearly half of the Taiwanese people have an ALDH2 deficiency, which rates highest in the world. This means they aren’t able to metabolize pure alcohol (ethanol) properly. Drinking two glasses of red wine every day will increase the risk of head and neck cancer and esophageal cancer rate to 50 times higher than normal.

China Times reports, after the body consumes alcohol, it will metabolize from alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) to acetaldehyde, and then metabolize into acetic acid through ALDH2. Since acetaldehyde is listed as a group 1 carcinogen, with the absence of ALDH2, accumulation of acetaldehyde in the human body will increase risk of cancer.

Chen Zhe-hung, senior researcher at the medical school of Stanford University, says studies conducted by Stanford point out 35 percent of the Chinese lack ALDH2, as do 30 percent of the Japanese and 20 percent of Koreans. But compared to these countries, 47 percent of the Taiwanese lack ALDH2, which is the highest percentage in the world.

But why do the Taiwanese have an ALDH2 deficiency? Chen points out that the deficiency is often seen in the Han Chinese who live by the coast. So the genetic defect is seen in people of China, Japan and South Korea, but not in the aboriginals of Taiwan.

Liberty Times reports, Chen says that the reason behind blushing after consuming alcohol is the unsteady metabolism of acetaldehyde. The acetaldehyde then accumulates in the blood, causing blood vessels to expand and heart rates to accelerate. Some people bear the superstition that blushing shows good liver function, which is a serious misconception.

Chen says, if people with such gene mutation drink too much wine, it is easy for acetaldehyde to accumulate. This increases the risk of head and neck cancer and esophageal cancer to 50 times higher than normal people. The health tip of a daily glass or two of red wine only applies to foreigners, and not all Taiwanese.

UDN reports, Chen says the number of Taiwanese eating betel nut is decreasing, but cases of esophagus cancer and throat cancer have increased, which possibly has to do with drinking and smoking, since both contain acetaldehyde.

The World Health Organization (WHO) classified acetaldehyde as a group 1 carcinogen in 2007 for it can easily lead to headaches, palpitations, vomiting and hangovers. Acetaldehyde and DNA binding will also cause genetic mutation.

Apple Daily reports, Chen also reminds people they can self-examine to see if they lack the ALDH2 enzyme. Soak the gauze on a bandage with spirits that have an alcohol concentration of over 20 percent and stick the bandage on the inner side of your arm. Tear off the bandage after 20 minutes. If red spots appear on the skin that was in contact with alcohol, then it indicates ALDH2 deficiency.

The accuracy of this examination can reach up to 70%, and Chen suggests people who blush after drinking should consume less alcohol in order to lower the risk of cancer.

Translated by Olivia Yang and Sarah Grasdijk