So I have been genetically tested and found to have the ALDH2 defect, the most probable cause for my sensitivity to mold and household chemicals. This makes it difficult for my system to handle formaldehyde, and its cousin chemical acetaldehyde, which is a toxin released into the bloodstream when yeast/mold dies or when alcohol is broken down by the liver. For the early part of my life, this mostly manifested as an instant hangover after one sip of beer (never could drink more than 2 glasses in my entire life). It is a common problem, especially for Asians, who manifest this acetaldehyde detox deficiency as rosy cheeks when they drink. This is often referred to as Asian glow or flush.
There is widespread significance to this, as it is estimated 24% of the populace have this genetic deficiency. Acetaldehyde causes all kinds of damage, mainly to the liver, and has even led to alcohol being classifed as a carcinogen by the WHO due to its association with drinking. So, if you want to drink, logically, it is crucial that you address your body’s ability to do this. You also might want to address it if you want to be around everyday household items, which when new, secretly harbor this dangerous chemical, as well as formaldehyde.
There is more to the story than just drinking, you see. My personal aldehyde detox inability has shown up in recent years in the form of mold sensitivity, which later developed into chemical sensitivity. This is because acetaldehyde is the main byproduct of yeasts and mold, and it is used in a lot of manufacturing. Thanks to Dr. Shoemaker’s protocols, I was tested for this deficiency and came up positive (in a negative way). So I cannot process the extremely common toxins formaldehyde and acetaldehyde as readily as most people. Though this defect is common, many people have not realized they have it. This is perhaps due to not being overexposed for any significant period of time to these toxins in a mold- or chemical-heavy house, not noticing the symptoms, or dealing with the symptoms of aldehyde build up by using pharmaceuticals and narcotics.
The Omnipresence of Aldehydes
Having an inability to detoxify these two things is a very inconvenient Achilles’ Heel in a world where they are not only byproducts of most modern technology, but used haphazardly in just about all manufacturing of products found within and without a box. You’ll be surprised to find that formaldehyde, which is found most commonly in embalming fluid and tissue storage (you know those pig fetuses you used to dissect?), is not the more common chemical. Before reading this extremely informative piece, I believed that formaldehyde was the culprit behind this sweet, sickening fragrance I smelled in new housing projects/construction, perfumes/fragrances, new clothes and fabrics, and a lot of new toys/electronics. Turns out acetaldehyde, the byproduct of the breakdown of alcohol, was more likely the offender.
Slowly, over the past several years, with many exposures and reexposures to mold, EMFs, and various chemicals, I have started to get really sensitive to aldehydes in colognes and pretty much any product that comes in a box. China is pumping these things into just about everything they manufacture (I guess because they’re a powerful antiseptic and have a “sweet” smell, so they just can’t resist using them). I can’t stand the stuff, and I can’t even accept gifts from my parents-in-law because my sensitivity to aldehydes has gotten so bad. Thankfully, I’ve been dealing with the digestive symptoms it gives me by taking Prescript-Assist and L-glutamine, but I can still smell the stuff, and they’re definitely still quite intolerable for me when I inhale them.
What You Can Do Right Now to Help Detox Aldehydes
Avoid aldehyde exposure. There are some simple ways to limit extreme amounts of aldehyde exposure. At this point I don’t know which I’m detecting when I smell them, but formaldehyde and acetaldehyde in my experience are most prevalent in the following everyday items which I have begun to avoid like the plague:
- Nail polish remover and eyelash glue (You know that awful smell? Yeah, that’s formaldehyde.)
- Perfumes and colognes
- New cars (i.e. the “new car smell” everyone loves)
- Most dish detergents, like Dawn and Palmolive, have quaternium to “enhance” the scent
- Houses with new construction or additions (most plywood/particle board and paint)
- Gas furnaces (we have a gas furnace in my house, so I’ve had to use only electric space heaters instead; very inconvenient)
- New clothes and especially blankets (anti-wrinkle and permanent press)
- Food high in formaldehyde: Mostly cured meats and various processed/canned foods
Use a fancy air purifier. I know this tagline sounds tongue-in-cheek, but I’m dead serious. You can really make a nice dent in bad air quality with a very high quality air purifier. If you have residual acetaldehyde or formaldehyde in your house that isn’t going anywhere, a HEPA filter will not work. If you’re going to try this approach, really go for it, and choose something that’s engineered specifically with these chemicals in mind. IQAir is the only one that I’ve heard is up to the task. It’s extremely pricey, but they are for sure guaranteed. If you’re disappointed, you can just return it.
Supplements That Could Aid in Aldehyde Metabolism
Though you should try to eliminate aldehydes as much as possible, it is very difficult to completely eliminate them. They are just everywhere. If you find yourself reacting to it more and more severely, you must combine your avoidance efforts with some attempt at strengthening your system in the detox process. Obviously, for those deficient in ALDH, this is a very difficult proposition. You’re either producing the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase or not. There is hope, though, if you’ll consider trying the following:
Take molybdenum. Molybdenum is an essential trace mineral that assists in the detox pathway of aldehydes. I have been taking molybdenum for awhile, and it always seems to help, but sometimes I forget. In fact, I just popped two 1 mg capsules of molybdenum glycinate from Thorne. However, that only goes so far I think. I cannot sleep through the night in a place that has a high level of formaldehyde no matter how much I take. This past Summer, I stayed at a large lake house for vacation, and with all the new construction, furniture, and/or flooring there, I couldn’t spend more than 20 minutes inside without feeling weakness in my legs, and ultimately lightheadedness leading to partial hallucination.
Take activated charcoal. This is the most universal binding agent for toxins. I use this. It is also effective at removing acetaldehyde, but if you keep getting reexposed, I think it becomes an encumbrance on your system. I’m not a fan of taking it constantly, because it seems to interfere with my probiotics (which I take often) and other supplements. When I’m feeling particularly lightheaded from food I’ve eaten or brief aldehyde exposure in the air, it seems to do the trick alright.
Take probiotics. Like I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, only one probiotic I’ve ever taken has helped me in any lasting significant way, and that is Prescript-Assist.
At a time when I was sleeping in my car due to excess toxins in my home from mold, this got me back to being a normal functioning human being. I was getting all kinds of allergies and sensitivities to everything that I’d never worried about before—even rubber and dogs.
Take L-glutamine. Any allergenic or autoimmune problem you’re experiencing started with a leaky gut from compromised intestinal lining. This comes from a lifetime of poor air quality and/or bad diet of inflammatory, high-sugar foods pumped full of preservatives, combined with exposure to antibiotics that were either prescribed to you or that got to you indirectly in your meat. L-glutamine has been incredibly effective for me, giving me almost instant results (stopping severe intestinal pain) when taken in high doses that I’ve ramped up to.
An Even Better Approach: Think Like a Drunk
Sometimes it really is better to think like an alcoholic. Let me ‘splain. When you Google “ALDH deficiency,” you only find results relating to the inability to process ethanol (causing instant hangovers, a la “Asian Flush”). It really doesn’t surprise me living in this world that the momentum for fixing this problem is more likely going to come from a desire for guilt-free drinking instead of a desire to improve the quality of life for MCS sufferers—but I digress.
I’m about to embark on a journey of discovery (and product reviews) where I’m going to test out all of the products that claim to treat Asian flush and prevent hangovers. Just for review, alcohol (ethanol) breaks down in the liver into aldehyde, which should then continue to be broken down by aldehyde dehydrogenase into acetic acid (which is easily removed). You see, these products aim to directly confront the aldehyde dehydrogenase deficiency with minerals, compounds, and herbs that are known to breakdown acetaldehyde. The answer was there all along.
The four products I will be trying are:
- pure vitamin B1
- Alcotox: a product that mainly utilizes B1 for the breakdown of acetaldehyde
- pure dihydromyricetin (DHM)
- Repair: a product that mainly utilizes DHM for the breakdown of acetaldehyde
I will let you know how it goes in a future post. 😉