Alcohol consumption can have an immediate effect on your immune system

Alcohol can weaken the immune system and make the body more susceptible to infections. Here's what you need to know.

Most people know that excessive drinking can damage your liver, cardiovascular system and digestive system, but it also damages your immune system, increasing your risk of contracting potentially fatal illnesses such as pneumonia.

Clinicians have long observed an association between excessive alcohol consumption and adverse immune-related health effects.

Both binge drinking even once a month, or moderate consumption of alcohol, may result in the negative effects of alcohol on immune system health.

Although regular heavy drinking is far worse for your immune system, binge drinking can severely affect the immune system temporarily. It may not seem like a big deal to have your immune system impaired for only a few hours, but if you find yourself in crowded spaces, your defenses will be lowered when you are most exposed to bacteria and viruses.


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

How alcohol impairs the immune system

Gut flora or gut microbiota, the micro-organisms that live in the digestive tracts of humans, play an important role in fighting diseases. This happens in many ways that we’re just beginning to understand. When you drink a lot of alcohol, it severely disturbs the gut’s microbiome, significantly altering the balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria. It affects the way healthy gut microbes interact with the immune system. It also affects the respiratory system. Excessive drinking may impair the function of immune cells in the lungs and upper respiratory system, leading to increased risk for pneumonia and tuberculosis.

The immune system is made up of several different kinds of cells and proteins, each with specific functions in regulating human health.

The primary cells involved in this process are B-cells and T-cells. Alcohol consumption disrupts normal T-cell function resulting in a risk of bacterial and viral infection. When these cells are suppressed, the immune system is less efficient at identifying and destroying invading pathogens. A single session of binge drinking can result in an immune system failure in protecting against infection.

Alcohol and immunodeficiency have long been known to be connected, but the mechanism for this process is still being studied.

The good news is that damage to the immune system is reversible in many cases. Reducing or stopping consumption of alcohol is key, combined with a healthy, balanced diet.


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