Pepcid for Asian glow – Does it help the symptoms?
By James Petra
Updated on October 31, 2019

Does Pepcid work for Asian glow? If you’re someone who gets a flush reaction after drinking alcohol, you’ve probably tried everything to stop it from happening.

It’s a popular belief that Pepcid and other antihistamines can reduce Asian glow as well as other associated symptoms.

But is there any truth to it?

In this article, we’re going to look at the science behind how Pepcid works and whether it prevents Asian glow based on the current research.

What is Pepcid?

Pepcid is the trade name for the drug Famotidine.

Pepcid is an antihistamine that blocks the H2 receptor. Therefore, it is specifically a H2 receptor blocker which is important to note as you have four different histamine receptors. All of which have specific functions that are not necessarily related.

It’s licensed for use in reducing excess stomach acid production in medical problems including reflux and peptic ulcer disease. Hence why the manufacturers probably chose “Pepcid” as the brand name.

You have H2 receptors all over your body. For example, your stomach lining (parietal cells) and smooth muscle cells that control constriction and dilation of blood vessels.

When drugs like Pepcid block H2 receptors, the following things happen which are relevant to Asian glow:

  • Reduction in stomach acid production
  • Constriction of certain blood vessels

Now that we’ve got the science out the way, let’s take a look at whether Pepcid has any benefit for Asian glow.

What happens during Asian glow?

People who get Asian glow lack an enzyme called ALDH2. It’s estimated that 30-50% of people of Asian origin either have no or low functioning ALDH2.  

This enzyme is crucial for breaking one of the main toxic by-products of alcohol metabolism called acetaldehyde.

As a result, you get a build-up of acetaldehyde which wreaks havoc on your insides if you’ve been drinking alcohol.

Acetaldehyde is highly reactive and breaks down to form free radicals which cause damage and inflammation to your cells.

In addition, research has shown that acetaldehyde stimulates the release of histamine from mast cells which are a type of white blood cell. (1)

This release of histamine dilates your blood vessels and causes the skin to become flushed in Asian glow.

Other symptoms of Asian glow which are related to histamine release include a drop in blood pressure and headache which happen because blood vessels in your body and brain dilate.

This is where Pepcid is thought to play a role. As a H2 (histamine receptor 2) blocker, does it help with Asian glow?

Next up we’ll look at what the research on this topic has shown.

Does Pepcid help with Asian glow?

To date, there has only been one study performed in 1988 which looked at giving both a H1 and H2 blocker (Pepcid) to people with asian glow.(2)

They found that test subjects had significantly less skin flushing. But, there are several problems with this study that are important to mention.

Firstly, in the study both a H1 and H2 blocker were given. Therefore, it’s impossible to tell which one actually helped.

H1 histamine receptors are well-known to have potent effects on blood vessel dilation and facial flushing. Much more than H2 receptors.

It’s very likely that the benefit seen in the above-mentioned study was from blocking the H1 receptor rather than H2 which Pepcid blocks. But unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing for sure.

Secondly, the study is almost 30 years old and it’s unclear how many people were included in the experiment. At the time of writing, there have been no further research studies looking at Pepcid or other antihistamines for Asian glow.

So, there is no scientifically proven evidence to show that Pepcid reduces the symptoms of Asian glow.

Pepcid AC vs Pepcid Complete for Asian glow?

What about the different Pepcid preparations available to buy? Does it make a difference if you take Pepcid AC or Pepcid complete?

To find out we need to see what the difference is exactly.

Pepcid AD contains:
– 20mg Famotidine (antihistamine)

Pepcid Complete contains:
– 10mg Famotidine (antihistamine)
– 800mg Calcium carbonate (antacid)
– 165mg Magnesium hydroxide (antacid)

As you can see, the difference is that Pepcid complete has a smaller dose of famotidine, plus a couple of antacids.

Therefore, it doesn’t make a difference in which Pepcid you chose to treat Asian glow symptoms. Both are unlikely to work.

Pepcid side effect

Pepcid is usually well tolerated. But it does have some important side effects you should be aware of.

These include constipation, dizziness, fatigue, and headache.

When it comes to taking Pepcid with alcohol, there have been conflicting results as to whether it has an interaction.

Some studies have shown that taking a H2 blocker like Pepcid increases how much alcohol you absorb. Whereas others have shown that it makes no difference.(3)

What about taking Zantac or other antihistamines for Asian glow?

Of course, Pepcid isn’t the only antihistamine used for Asian glow. The other common ones used include:

Ranitidine (AKA Zantac) – H2 blocker

Cetirizine  (AKA Zyrtec) – H1 blocker

Fexofenadine (AKA Allegra) – H1 blocker

Now that you know about H1 and H2 receptors, you can see that Zantac and Pepcid are essentially the same things. Both are licensed to treat excess acid production and are unlikely to work for Asian glow.

Zyrtec and Allegra, on the other hand, are H1 blockers that are used to treat allergic reactions and urticaria (hives). These drugs are a lot more likely to help Asian glow symptoms.

Dangers of using antihistamines for Asian Glow

There is some concern that using antihistamines like Zyrtec and Allegra can mask the symptom of Asian glow.(4)

As a result, people may drink more which can cause significant harm.

Repeated exposure to acetaldehyde and its toxic build-up during periods of over-indulgence have been linked with esophageal cancer in people with Asian glow.

In fact, individuals with Asian glow who don’t produce the ALDH2 enzyme and drink the equivalent of 33 or more U.S. standard drinks per week have an 89-fold increased risk of esophageal cancer compared to non-drinkers.

That said, most people who lack this enzyme don’t just get Asian glow. They also get all the other symptoms associated with the flush reaction which include, nausea, headache, dizziness, and difficulty breathing to mention a few.

Zantac recall – Newly discovered risks

In October 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered the manufacturers to Zantac, GlaxoSmithKline, to recall their product over safety concerns.(5)

The FDA found that Zantac products contained  “unacceptable” levels of a carcinogen called N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA).

Although this problem is likely to be fixed pretty soon, it’s important to be aware of it because it’s only just happened at the time of publishing this article.

Alternatives to Pepcid for Asian glow

We’ve already mentioned some other histamines of the H1 blocker type which are better alternatives to Pepcid.

There is gel going through clinical trials which is applied topically to the face in order to reduce redness in the cheeks. It works by constricting blood vessels.(6)

However, this isn’t available at the moment and doesn’t help the underlying damage and problems caused by the buildup of acetaldehyde.

Gene therapy to knock out the replace the gene that produces the ALDH2 enzyme with one that works has also been carried out on mice.

Amazingly, scientists were able to show that they were successfully able to replace this gene using a virus.(7)

These results were only published in 2018 so it’s a long way away from being a viable treatment alternative to Pepcid for Asian glow.

Aside from this, there are several natural Asian flush supplements that could support your liver in dealing with the by-products of alcohol metabolism.

Conclusion

That brings us to the end of our look into Pepcid for Asian glow.

We’ve walked you through all the ways antihistamines could improve your symptoms based on the currently available research.

Lots of people use Pepcid for Asian glow, but there isn’t compelling evidence to say it works. On the other hand, H1 blockers like Zyrtec and Allegra may be better.

Ultimately, Asian glow is caused by a deficiency in the ALDH2 enzyme and antihistamines will only mask some of the symptoms.

Regardless of whether these work to reduce facial flushing, the underlying problem isn’t fixed by Pepcid and similar antihistamines. Acetaldehyde levels will be unchanged and you will still get the other negative symptoms that come with the flush reaction.

You can find out more about Asian glow and why it happens in our comprehensive guide.

Best hangover pills
Check out our pick of the top four Asian flush prevention supplements available to you right now.

James Petra

James is a beer-loving Biochemist and natural health enthusiast from Hull, which is in Yorkshire, England.

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