You probably have at least one buddy who suffers from "The Flush": After a few drinks, he looks like Violet Beauregarde just before the Oompa Loompas rolled her out of Willy Wonka's gum room. His red face might be an allergic reaction -- or it could be a warning sign of impending heart trouble, finds new research from South Korea.
Among people who sip four or more drinks per week, men who became flushed from alcohol were more than twice as likely to develop high blood pressure later in life than guys who didn't turn red from booze. That means guys who suffer from skin flushing are at greater risk for heart disease, stroke, and other hypertension-related health issues, the research suggests. (Cholesterol is so yesterday's news. Meet today's artery enemy with The New Heart Threat.)
What's possibly going on? When an alcohol metabolite called acetaldehyde builds up in your system, it causes your blood vessels to constrict, which weakens blood flow and makes you look like a guy who's thrown one too many plates on his barbell, explains study coauthor Jong-Sung Kim, M.D., Ph.D., of Chungnam National University. Normally, your body can break down the metabolite.
It can be tough to differentiate between an alcohol allergy and an inability to break down acetaldehyde, Dr. Kim adds. Both can cause flushing. But if your red face is accompanied by nausea and heart palpitations -- and especially if you experience flushing regardless of what type of hooch you're swallowing -- all signs point to an acetaldehyde issue, the researchers explain. If that's the case, you need to bring it up with your doctor.
No matter who you are, drinking too heavily can lead to a build-up of the metabolite and, eventually, to high blood pressure, Dr. Kim says. But for most American men it takes a whole lot of booze -- roughly 14 or more drinks per week -- to be in danger, studies have shown. Stay out of trouble by sticking to 1 to 3 drinks a week, the research indicates. (Down these 4 Secretly Dangerous Drinks at your own peril!)