• Drinking;
  • Alcohol Flushing Response;
  • Insulin Resistance

Background:  Facial flushing responses to drinking, because of intolerance to alcohol, are observed in some people, especially Asians. This study examined the role of flushing responses in the relationship between alcohol consumption and insulin resistance (IR).

Methods:  Participants in this cross-sectional analysis included 624 Korean men (80 nondrinkers, 306 nonflushing drinkers, and 238 flushing drinkers) who were free of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Data on the flushing response to drinking and alcohol consumption were collected from medical records. IR was estimated using the Homeostasis Model Assessment (HOMAIR). On the basis of comparisons with nondrinkers, the risk of IR according to the quantity of alcohol consumed per week was analyzed among nonflushers and flushers.

Results:  After adjusting for age, exercise status, smoking status, BMI, waist circumference, blood pressure, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and triglycerides using a logistic regression model, we found a low risk of IR among nonflushers who consumed ≤4 drinks (1 drink = 14 g of alcohol) per week (OR = 0.3). In contrast, a higher risk of IR was associated with nonflushers who consumed >20 drinks per week (OR = 3.5). On the other hand, only a higher risk of IR was associated with flushers who consumed >12 drinks per week (>12 to 20 drinks: OR = 4.7; >20 drinks: OR = 3.5).

Conclusions:  The amount of drinking associated with the development of IR in flushers was lower than in nonflushers. Additionally, no positive effect of moderate drinking on IR was observed in flushers. The findings support acetaldehyde-derived mechanisms in the development of alcohol-related IR.