Alcohol and the Human Immune System

The human immune system consists of a complex network of tissues and cells. This system guards your body from pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. It is well established that binge drinking and chronic alcoholism weakens the immune system. And now that winter is approaching, the risk of getting ill is increased. This risk is especially apparent if you are a heavy drinker.

Below we outline how alcohol can both help and hinder your immune system. By the time you have finished reading this article we hope you are more informed on how alcohol can affect your immune system and steps you can take to stay healthy.

How moderate drinking can help your immune system

Drinking alcohol within the official recommended daily limit may actually do your immune system some good. This is no more than three units per day for a man and no more than two units per day for a women.

A 2014 study revealed that monkeys who drank modest amounts of alcohol responded more favourably to a vaccine than monkeys who were not given any alcohol at all.

Another study in 1993 found non-smoking moderate drinkers were less likely to get a cold than both heavy and non-drinkers. Smokers were much more likely to catch an illness no matter how little they drank.

These findings were backup by a more recent study conducted in 2002. This study found moderate red wine drinkers were less likely to catch a cold than non-drinkers. Cider, whiskey and beer drinkers unfortunately did not derive this benefit from their drinking.

How drinking alcohol can hinder your immune system

Scientists believe alcohol weakens the immune system by reducing the number of T cells in the blood. These are the white blood cells designed to fight off inflection. A reduction in their number leaves you more open to infection.

Alcohol also interferes with inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s way of dealing with infection. Inflammation helps white blood cells’ journey to the site of infection.

A recent study revealed alcohol causes a ‘yo-yo’ effect on the body’s inflammation pathways.

Alcohol also causes a drop in the number of phagocytes cells in the blood. Phagocytes cells are white blood cells that kill off diseases invading the body.

In 2014, a separate study revealed binge drinking mice also experienced a drop in phagocytes cells following exposure to alcohol.

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