My friend's seemingly bogus claim pertaining to Chinese people and alcohol

My friend is claiming that Chinese people genetically lack the ability to “detoxify” alcohol, whatever the hell that means. He says they can drink it, but they’ll get drunk faster than other people or something. I think this sounds like bullshit. doesn’t say anything. Can anyone shed any light on the situation?

Looks like there’s something to it. It’s related to aldehye dehydrogenase deficiency.

There’s a large element of truth to this. A significant portion of Asians (and other ethnicities, though it’s most pronounced in Asians) are likely to lack or be deficient in the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase (link) which is responsible for breaking down acetylaldehyde, one of the byproducts in the metabolism of alcohol.

As others said, your friend’s claim is very much true. Some Asian populations have over 50% of the people what you might call allergic to alcohol. Their lack the proper enzymes to process it and will experience facial flushing and other symptoms after only a small amount. The condition isn’t usually dangerous but it may be uncomfortable and makes it impossible to allow them to drink as much as other people.

And even those Chinese who don’t have that enzyme deficiency might appear to have a problem with alcohol due either to their not being as habitual imbibers or having a lot less body fat (which slows down the alcohol absorbtion rate) on average… although the Chinese are beginning to have the rising obesity and diabetes rates characteristic of much of the West.

American Indians have a legendary weakness for and vulnerability to alcohol – if that’s true, is there any genetic factor?

Actually, I believe the proper medical term is “sake suntan” :smiley:

I’ve always considered it a plus. Less drinks to get me hammered :). The face flush is annoying and people will generally think I’m alot drunker than I really am.

As people have said, it’s true. My dad, for example, turns bright red after a can of light beer.

So do I, but I guess I always assumed it was part psychological for me. My father was an alcoholic, so I’ve always been a bit leery of the stuff. One drink makes my face red and I feel a little hot. Two drinks and I’m incredibly sleepy. I’ve never had three!

I once had a work mandated class on alcohol awareness and the instructor was very well versed in this very subject. He was able to explain in very simple terms the issues with the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase, and how it affects different cultures based on when that culture was intriduced to alcohol. Fascinating stuff and I wish I could remember more of his lecture.

Anyway, IIRC, yes American Indians do not handle alcohol very well. However, unlike the Asian cultures, the American Indians have a high rate of alcoholism. This has to do with the aforementioned enzyme and when alcohol was introduced to their respective regions (Asians have had alcohol for quite a while, whereas the Indians were introduced to alcohol relatively recently in their history.

As I said, I wish I could remember more specifics and articulate why this happens in this way, but that one class was a long time ago, at a time when I used to drink a lot.

I think that the longer a population has been exposed to alcohol, the less alcoholism is found.

My Asian fiancee refuses to drink alcohol of any kind – the tiniest sip makes her feel sick.


From experience, Japanese have a problem with beer

  • never risk a Mai Tai (rice vodka) drinking session with a Chinese

My girlfriend is half Chinese (other half Filipino) and she seems to get horribly sick every time she drinks alcohol. She can’t seem to have more than 3 drinks without puking her guts out all night.

In my experience the Japanese LOVE beer. It supprised me at the time. I can’t go into details but at the banquet I attended the most popular drink served at the time was American beer!
And nobody got rowdy, just happy and had a good time. :slight_smile:

At 5’5” and 125lbs (soaking wet and in combat boots) with a high metabolism, my relationship with alcohol was already destined to be a little rocky. Add to that a bad genetic roll of the dice1, and you end up with a guy who is pleasantly intoxicated halfway into his second beer, cresting euphoria on his third, and on juggernaut path to the State of Shitfaced with any more than four.

While I rarely consume more than 3 beers2, the problem is that 15 minutes after the first swig, I look like I’m on beer #4. My eyes get bleary and bloodshot and my face turns as red as an embarrassed commie tomato. The skin on my body looks like a shifting impressionist rendering of clouds in splotches of red and pink. This made it hard for me to drink socially without looking like I was getting hammered.

Then one day my roommate (who’s also Asian and similarly afflicted) heard from a friend who heard from some guy at a party that taking one of the “new generation” of antacids (Pepcid, Zantac, etc) prior to drinking would ward off the Asian Blush. Given the sound authority by which this information was conveyed to us, my roommate and I decided to put aside a weekend to put it to the test. We used Pepcid because we’d recently received a fistful of free samples in the mail. We sat out on the balcony and started drinking, waiting for whatever effects to kick in. By the time we started on our second beers, we’d noticed that neither of us had turned red, but neither did we feel any other familiar signs of intoxication. We attributed it to a heavy meal prior to the experiment. I shortly got up to take a piss, and it was on my way to the bathroom that I notice that my sense of balance and reaction time were both slightly fuzzy and retarded. I realized then that I was in fact intoxicated, but without the early symptoms I was familiar with: flushed warmth in the face and ears, watery eyes, and drowsiness. My roommate had the same experience once he got up and moved around.

Since then, I’ve taken to carrying one around if I plan on drinking socially in public. I’ve always wondered why it worked, and was planning on posting the question, and in doing so I read up on famotidine (the active ingredient in Pepcid), and Ranitidine (aka Zantac). After reading the first link provided by Finagle, and the Wiki on H2-antagonists, the picture seems quite clear now on the cause and effect. Note that the study in Finagle’s link was published in 1987, and didn’t include the much more effective latter generation H2-antagonists that were just coming out on the market at that time.


  1. Unlike my older sister who got mad saves vs. alcohol when my parents roll her char.

  2. If I consume any distilled spirits at a rate faster than what is defined as “nursing”, I will sweat said spirit to a degree that anyone standing within a 3’ radius can easily identify what I am drinking by smell.

Quite true. In my experience the enzyme deficiency never kept any Japanese from going on a binge. It just tended to take a little less time for them to turn red and start choosing Bon Jovi tunes off the karaoke box.

Metrognome, that is SO cool. Thanks for posting.

Sorry, for got to ask. How does one pronouce “dehydrogenase”?