Can the Use of Alcohol Affect the Immune System?

As a result, your body may neglect its immune response in favor of metabolizing large amounts of alcohol. Clinicians have long observed an association between excessive alcohol consumption and adverse immune-related health effects such as susceptibility to pneumonia. Yet, many are surprised that drinking alcohol can also make you more susceptible to viruses such as COVID-19. If you drink alcohol to excess, your immune system will not function as well as it should. While the exact mechanisms are unknown, it’s known that excessive alcohol consumption suppresses your body’s immune response.

However, the percentage of CD8-positive T cells significantly increased among the heaviest drinkers between 2 to 5 years post-seroconversion (Crum et al., 1996). While the clinical significance of this observation needs further investigation, this study suggests a potential for greater immune changes in those HIV-1 positive patients who also consume alcohol. A case report of an HIV-1 infected individual showed rapid progression of HIV-1 infection and development of AIDS upon heavy alcohol use (Fong et al., 1994). Other studies in Watson’s laboratory on MAIDS suggest that ethanol may accelerate the development of AIDS by disrupting cytokine production (Wang and Watson, 1994; Wang et al., 1997). Taken together, our current knowledge suggests that alcohol use (potentially both acute and chronic) is likely to increase host susceptibility to HIV-1 infection and to contribute to an accelerated progression of HIV disease.

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Mark Hutchinson of the University of Adelaide in South Australia says that the results tally with post-mortem data showing that chronic drinkers have less immune chemicals in their blood than normal. Szabo says heavy drinkers should beware of damaging their immune systems. Next, she hopes to see if alcohol makes flu vaccinations less effective. Without your circulatory system, you wouldn’t be able to pump blood, oxygen, or nutrients to the vital areas of the body that need it the most. Many people may not know about the damage that alcohol can do to the circulatory system; primarily the heart and lungs. While it is impossible to fully prevent getting an infection, taking steps to improve your immune health will give your body the best chance of quickly fighting potential infections.

Unpredictable social interactions are a strong indicator of substance use disorders. This condition occurs when bacteria enter the chest cavity’s pleural space, typically due to pneumonia or a post-surgery infection. A weakened immune system increases an individual’s chances of developing empyema. But when you’ve ingested too much alcohol for your liver to process in a timely manner, the toxic substance begins to take its toll on your body, starting with your liver. “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.

Effects of alcohol on adaptive immunity

Therefore, symptoms may last longer and may become more intense than normal. When severe instances occur, a person’s immune system may not be powerful enough to get rid of the infection. However, there are certain bacteria that do not respond to drugs or medical treatment. As a result, a person becomes vulnerable to infections that invade their body. It contains numerous cells and proteins that recognize infections and fight them. There is a clear negative relationship between and alcohol and the immune system.

What weakens immune system?

It can also happen to people after organ transplants who take medicine to prevent organ rejection. Also, infections, such as the flu virus, mono (mononucleosis), and measles, can weaken the immune system for a short time. Your immune system can also be weakened by smoking, alcohol, and poor nutrition.

However, further research is needed to understand cellular and intracellular mechanisms by which ethanol consumption may modulate the biology and clinical course of HIV-1 infection. Cytokines, immunoregulatory proteins produced by lymphoid cells, have a capacity to affect the functions of both lymphoid and non-immune cell types (neurons, endocrine organs, etc.). Thus, the effect of either chronic or acute alcohol use is only partially understood on cytokine production and functions. IL-2 is one of the most important cytokines promoting T cell growth, survival and proliferation. Studies in vitro suggest that alcohol has no effect on the ability of T cells to produce IL-2. Although Jerrels et al. (1990) suggested that ethanol probably affects T cell utilization of IL-2, the intracellular mechanisms for this are yet to be understood.

Short-term and long-term effects of alcohol consumption

Although the innate immune response is immediate, it is not specific to any given pathogen. Some of the most notable contributors to the innate immune response include natural killer (NK) cells, neutrophils, monocytes, macrophages, and dendritic cells (DCs). Alcohol–immune interactions also may affect the development and progression of certain cancers. Meadows and Zhang discuss specific mechanisms through which alcohol interferes with the body’s immune defense against cancer. They note, too, that a fully functioning immune system is vital to the success of conventional chemotherapy. The clinical management of all of these conditions may be more challenging in individuals who misuse alcohol because of coexisting immune impairment.

  • The heat from that extra blood passes right out of your body, causing your temperature to drop.
  • This movement prevents bacteria, particles, and fluid from entering the lungs.
  • Their article also highlights how the combined effect of alcohol and injury causes greater disruption to immune function than either challenge alone.

Living in a culture where alcohol consumption is very much accepted and even encouraged tends to water down how devastating it can be to your physical, mental, social, and financial health. When it comes to alcohol abuse, a cold can be the least of your worries. Alcohol is full of empty calories, which can cause people to consume fewer healthy foods with the nutrients their bodies need. Over time, chronic drinking also damages the gastrointestinal tract—reducing the body’s ability to extract vital nutrients from the food that is consumed.

Alcohol and Lung Disease

If you currently smoke cigarettes or use other tobacco products, it may be worth trying to quit for the sake of your immunity. You should also try to minimize psychological stress; relaxation exercises like meditation or yoga may help. Drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic poses physical and psychological risks. Not only are people drinking more (and drinking alone), but consuming too much alcohol can also weaken your immunity to viruses like the cold, flu, and SARS-CoV-2.

alcohol lowers immune system

Without rapid hospital treatment, septicemia can lead to sepsis, which is life-threatening. When ALD reaches its final stage, known as alcoholic liver cirrhosis, the damage is irreversible and leads to complications. The damage is irreversible because scar tissues build up and replace the liver’s regenerative cells, preventing the organ from healing. Gut barrier damage can make the body more vulnerable to food poisoning, and epithelial does alcohol weaken your immune system cell damage can hinder the intestines’ ability to absorb nutrients. When the gut barrier cannot function properly, harmful bacteria can leak into the bloodstream, leading to further complications. By illuminating the key events and mechanisms of alcohol-induced immune activation or suppression, research is yielding deeper insights into alcohol’s highly variable and sometimes paradoxical influences on immune function.

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