We all have that friend who gets a little red-faced or flushed after a single mug of beer or a glass of wine. Contrary to popular believe, however, this phenomenon is not an indication of good “qi” as your grandmother might tell you, neither will it dissipate with more “practice” as your buddies guarantee. With Valentine’s and the Lunar New Year just around the corner most of us will be partaking in a drink or two, to say the least.

Known as the Asian Flush, one in three Singaporeans are reportedly genetically predisposed to this syndrome. A study by communication students from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) found that while more than half of the respondents who drink are Asian Flushers, only 26.3% of them were successful in adhering to the Health Promotion Board’s (HPB) drinking guidelines.

While many of them go beyond these guidelines due to social pressures, or simply because they do not feel the onset of “drunkenness” – a subjective measure commonly used to demarcate one’s drinking boundaries, what’s worrying is this binge drinking further increases the Asian Flusher’s susceptibility to certain cancers, along with other health implications such as peptic ulcer disease and hypertension.

To add on, some of us are admittedly aware we are Asian Flushers ourselves, that doesn’t deter us from having too much to drink. In the team’s own words,”people carry on to drink not due to social pressure, but because of self-imposed pressure”.

Owing to an enzyme deficiency, the body is not able to neutralise acetaldehyde, a cancer-causing agent converted from alcohol. When the body detects acetaldehyde in the bloodstream, the vessels dilate, creating the flush associated with drinking. Chances of contracting oesophageal cancer increases as much as ten-fold for Asian Flushers.

Building on this, the same team of students have taken to social media to embark on a “RED AF” campaign to raise awareness and educate young adults on the Asian Flush. The students chose this project amidst other campaign ideas such as supporting bone marrow donations or aiding caregivers, as three out of four of the team are Asian Flushers themselves.

Through youth-oriented infographics and edutainment content, the team hopes to address the common misconceptions of Asian Flush, while reforming social norms surrounding high-risk drinking in Singapore.

In the pipeline comes “Fair Game”, a textual narrative game that involves a little role playing. Players will be taken down the path of drinking a mysterious liquid and learning about its harmful consequences, before it is revealed that the liquid is actually alcohol.

Although having had difficulties finding sponsors and professional medical experts to support their campaign along the way, the team was adamant they would not pick a different campaign if given a second choice. “We found that little local attention has been given to Asian Flush, despite it affecting 1 in 3 Singaporeans, so we want to do our part in promoting healthy drinking habits,” the team said.

We’re not here to deter you from drinking because we love our drinks too, but if you’d rather err on the side of caution, HPB recommends a maximum intake of a single alcoholic beverage for women, and two for men per day.

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