Get the Asian Flush? Rice May Be Causing It

January 21, 2010

asian_flush.jpgThat red-faced glow many Asians get when they have a few too many drinks is the result of a genetic mutation that research suggests occurred about the same time farmers began growing rice in China ... about 10,000 years ago.

Scientists know about 50 percent of east Asians and 5 percent of Europeans have mutations in liver enzymes that can increase the rate of alcohol metabolizing up to 100-fold, which causes capillaries in the face to dilate, causing the Asian Flush.

A report in Science Magazine suggests that farmers who had the mutation were protected from alcohol poisoning as they were boozing it up with rice wine, which was developed during the same time period. So, those with the mutation didn't drink themselves to death, allowing natural selection to take its course.

But -- and there's always a but -- the evidence is inconclusive, and there's a 3,000-year variance in time for when farming started and when the mutation began, so don't cut out rice yet, unless you're on a low-carb diet.

Now, if they can figure out the gene that causes Asian Time and bad driving, then we'd have something. (Just kidding, of course.)


Harry Mok

Editor in chief

Editor in Chief Harry Mok wrote about growing up on a Chinese vegetable farm for the second issue of Hyphen and has been a volunteer editor since 2004. As a board member of the San Francisco and New York chapters of the Asian American Journalists Association, Harry has recruited and organized events for student members. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, where he was also a graduate student instructor in the Asian American Studies Department.