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How Does Alcohol Consumption Affect the Immune System?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), moderate drinking is defined as no more than four alcoholic drinks on any single day for men and no more than 14 in total over a week. For women, this reduces to three drinks on any single day and no more than seven drinks over a week. The immune system is the body’s way of protecting itself from infection and disease; it fights everything from cold and flu viruses to serious conditions such as cancer. “There is evidence that chronic alcohol use makes people more susceptible to respiratory viral infections,” said Jung, the NIAAA’s director of the Division of Metabolism and Health Effects. With bars closed and parties called off due to the coronavirus pandemic, many Americans are replacing in-person drinks with virtual happy hours.

  • Overall, avoid drinking more than moderate amounts if you want your immune system in good shape, says Favini.
  • Over time, drinking too much blunts your body’s ability repair itself.
  • Your liver detoxifies and removes alcohol from the blood through a process known as oxidation.
  • Fatty liver is usually completely reversible in about four to six weeks if you completely abstain from drinking alcohol.
  • Vitamin D deficiency results in reduced differentiation, phagocytosis and oxidative burst, by monocytes as well as defective bactericidal activity by keratinocytes (Fabri, Stenger et al. 2011, Djukic, Onken et al. 2014).

This increased susceptibility has been recapitulated in rodent models of chronic alcohol abuse. Likewise, higher pathogen burden and decreased CD8 T cell immunity was observed in female mice administered ethanol at 15% (w/v) for 5 days and challenged with Listeria monocytogenes (Gurung, Young et al. 2009). Similar results have been seen in SIV infection of male nonhuman primates (Bagby, Stoltz et al. 2003, Molina, McNurlan et al. 2006, Poonia, Nelson et al. 2006, Marcondes, Watry et al. 2008). The dendritic cell (DC), which plays a critical role in T cell activation and initiation of adaptive immune responses, is another innate immune cell affected by ethanol. DCs uptake antigens in peripheral tissues which leads to their maturation, and then travel to draining lymph nodes where they present them to T cells (Janeway 2008).

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Immune System?

This alerts the immune system in the liver to activate, which triggers an inflammatory response. Routine drinking can cause chronic inflammation in the liver and ultimately cause alcoholic liver disease (ALD). If ALD goes unmanaged, it can cause liver cirrhosis (late-stage scarring) and even liver cancer. Vitamin E is one of the most effective antioxidants and its deficiency exacerbates freeradical damage impairing the ability of T cells to respond Facts About Aging and Alcohol National Institute on Aging to pathogenic challenge (Mocchegiani, Costarelli et al. 2014). Similarly, vitamin C, also an antioxidant, is important for phagocytic activity of neutrophils and monocytes, and enhances T cell responses (Strohle and Hahn 2009). Thiamine, also known as vitamin B1, contributes to the activation of T cells, suppresses oxidative stress-induced NFκB activation in macrophages, and serves as an anti-inflammatory factor (Manzetti, Zhang et al. 2014).

  • These disruptions to the composition of the gut microbiota and to gut barrier function have important implications beyond the intestinal system.
  • For example, one study found that women who consumed 330 mL of beer for 30 days exhibited a significant increase in leukocytes, mature CD3+ T-cells, neutrophils, and basophils.
  • Alcohol consumption can deteriorate your overall health, damaging immune cells and impairing their ability to protect you from disease.
  • If you have an immune system disorder, learn as much as you can about it.
  • “The oxidative metabolism of alcohol generates molecules that inhibit fat oxidation in the liver and, subsequently, can lead to a condition known as fatty liver,” says Dr. Menon.
  • Obviously, the more that a person drinks, the more that his or her immune system will be damaged.

“When you’re feeling run down or like you might get sick, you want to be well hydrated so that all the cells in your body have enough fluid in them and can work really well,” Favini says. “You don’t want to be dehydrated when you’re fighting off an infection.” Overall, avoid drinking more than moderate amounts if you want your immune system in good shape, says Favini.

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