Many Australians who are using Zantac to prevent their Asian flush are dangerously unaware of the risks of doing so. The purpose of this article is to highlight the dangers of taking Zantac for Asian flush and to present some alternatives.
FDA Requests Removal of Zantac from the Market
Since late 2019, the FDA has been investigating a contaminant known as NDMA in medications that contain ranitidine (i.e. Zantac). On April 1 2020, the FDA finally issued a press release announcing the immediate removal of Zantac from the US market.
In case you were wondering, no this was not an April fools joke. It turns out that the level of NDMA present in Zantac increases over time when stored at higher than room temperatures. The FDA’s testing also showed that the older a ranitidine product is, or the longer the length of time since it was manufactured, the greater the level of NDMA.
Why is NDMA in Zantac Dangerous?
The NDMA found in Zantac has been ruled by the FDA as a probable human carcinogen (i.e. something that can cause cancer).
Whilst small amounts of NDMA can be found in food and even drinking water, these quantities are unlikely to pose serious health risks. The problem arises when the exposure is larger and more sustained (i.e. routinely taking Zantac before every drinking session).
Give the existing Asian flush cancer risks, adding this NDMA to the mix while taking compromised Zantac pills may not be the smartest idea.
Dangers of Taking Zantac with Alcohol
In addition to these new warnings flagged by the FDA, there are also other risks involved with taking Zantac to prevent alcohol flushing symptoms.
Many Australians with Asian flush engage in the dangerous off-label use of Zantac because it has antihistamine properties. However, this is now what Zantac was designed for. If it were designed for this purpose, it would probably have warnings plastered all over the packaging.
In our Asian Flush Guide for Australians, we explain that the flushing reaction comes about as a result of a histamine reaction in the body. Using antihistamines to stop this reaction is simply masking symptoms and fails to address the underlying problem that causes the histamine release in the first place – i.e. acetaldehyde.
This practice is dangerous because acetaldehyde has toxic properties of its own. In fact, it is also a group 1 carcinogen, as indicated by classifications put out by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Therefore, masking symptoms of flushing can sometimes cause people with Asian flush to feel like they can drink more alcohol, which in turn causes more of a build-up of this dangerous acetaldehyde.
On the topic of using antihistamines like Zantac to reduce Asian flush, Associate Professor Terry Mulhern from the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Melbourne reiterates the comments above, stating that their use is only effective on a surface level:
“They will treat the flushing part and some other symptoms associated with that histamine release… But they’re not doing anything to the acetaldehyde. You’ve still got acetaldehyde in your system doing its nasty toxic stuff, but you just don’t have a red face.”
“They’re turning red for a reason: Acetaldehyde is in their system… This is their body telling them to stop drinking immediately. I know it’s frustrating for people because it may be challenging being surrounded by people who drink often… If people want to take H2 blockers, the best thing to do is to discuss their decision with their physician and figure out a game plan rather than treating themselves.”
Alternatives to Taking Zantac for Asian Flush
As mentioned by the specialists above, treating oneself with medications that are not even designed for the problem you’re trying to treat is problematic.
All Australians who are considering taking anything to stop their Asian flush should first consult with a medical practitioner who is familiar with the alcohol flush reaction and how to treat it.
We have put together a comprehensive article about various ways to stop Asian flush. In this article, we talk about the importance of tackling the underlying problem of acetaldehyde accumulation rather than simply masking symptoms with antihistamines like Zantac.