General Health Wednesday December 28, 2011

The surprising truth about Alcohol and Allergies

Concerns about alcohol intake at this time of year are well documented, and the chances are you have already read many articles and blogs warning you to watch your alcohol consumption as you celebrate Christmas and see in the New Year. Most people reach their twenties and beyond with a fairly good understanding of their own tolerance for alcohol, but even an awareness of the term “lightweight” versus “heavyweight” does not necessarily mean you are completely wised-up on the potential dangers of alcohol that are less well known.

Is it possible to be allergic to alcohol?

Though it is very rare to be allergic to alcohol itself, it is possible to be allergic to certain ingredients found in some alcoholic beverages or have an intolerance to alcohol because of an enzyme deficiency. Aldehyde Dehydrogenase (ALDH) is an enzyme that is very important when it comes to drinking alcohol as it fulfils the role of metabolising the alcohol that you consume into acetic acid. People who lack adequate amounts of this enzyme are not able to break down the alcohol and so it is toxic to the body. In response the body triggers an immune reaction, leading to symptoms associated with allergies, as it attempts to remove the toxins.

People who have this ALDH deficiency should avoid consuming alcohol so they do not experience an adverse reaction. Anyone can have an ALDH deficiency, but it is considered to be particularly common among the East Asian population. If you are concerned that you may have this deficiency, you should discuss it with your doctor or nutritionist who will be able to advise you further, for example if testing is necessary.

What about allergies to particular ingredients?

It is possible to be allergic to any one of hundreds of different ingredients, and those contained in alcoholic beverages are no exception. In addition to the pure alcohol that is ethanol, alcoholic beverages like beer and wine can contain yeast, grapes, food chemicals, preservatives, hops and barley. This means that you may not be intolerant to alcohol in a general sense, you may find that you are allergic or intolerant to beer, because of the presence of hops, or wine, due to the use of grapes. In terms of wine consumption, histamines are also a concern, as they are sometimes found in certain wines to be of a fairly high concentration.

If you have experienced the symptoms of an allergic reaction or an intolerance but are unsure of what ingredient is to blame, it is advisable to take a screening test which will be able to tell you what, if any, foods you are particularly sensitive to. Once you have this information, you will be able to cut out the offending foods or beverages.

Why is this particularly important during the festive season?

An awareness of the dangers of allergies and food intolerance are always important, but at this time of year it is especially important to bear them in mind. During the festive season, when you are likely to be attending a higher number of parties and social events where alcohol will be consumed, it is very common to drink more alcohol than you are used to, and potentially new alcohol beverages that you have not yet tried and could contain ingredients that your body is not used to.

It is always recommended that you limit your alcohol intake for your own safety, particularly at this time of year. The possible effects of particular ingredients may be less well known, but their potential to cause harm should be something of which you are aware.

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