Alcohol, Your Immune System, and Coronavirus
So lately, I've seen quite a few social media posts about people serving up various cocktails while they are confined to their homes. Celebrities and their cocktail recipes are even making news. After seeing this “what seems to be growing trend” my “health senses” (kinda like Spidey senses) went off like crazy and I had to spring into researching the question: Are we hurting ourselves more by drinking alcohol while fighting a viral pandemic?
The answer is yes, and maybe! The reason the answer is tricky is because research points to excessive drinking as the real issue. The problem here is that “excessive” can mean different amounts for different people due to underlying diagnosed or undiagnosed health issues, personal tolerances to alcohol, and all the unique things that make us different.
Another Question, and Answers.
So how does alcohol hurt our immune systems? From the research that I’ve done, alcohol does impair your immune system in several different ways, some more complex than others. I will share four main, less complex, ways alcohol negatively affects your immune system.
1. The Gut Barrier- It’s safe to say that the gut or gastrointestinal tract is the first line of defense with regards to alcohol consumption. In a nutshell, alcohol creates and environment where bacteria, gems, and viruses (microbes) enter the bloodstream by disrupting the gut barrier function. Inflammation is also created during this process leaving your body to fight more than necessary, thus tying up defensive immunity resources.
2. Macrophage- Macrophages are kind of like, or at least from the research that I've found, the Special Forces of your white blood cells. They are the bigger white blood cells that seek and destroys those particles like fungus, viruses, bacteria, parasites, and things of the like. Alcohol’s affect on macrophages disrupts that function and deteriorates the function.
3. T-Cells- T-Cells are the like the Marines Corps of your immune system. In particularly healthy individuals, they adapt and overcome those foreign pathogens. Heavy alcohol may interfere with normal T-cell development increasing the risk of infections and decreasing the body’s response.
4. Other Cells- There are other cells that work like soldiers, airmen, and sailors in keeping your defenses strong against those nasty, foreign microbes. B-cells, C-Cells, and NK cells. B-cells and T-cells are adaptive cells that require some training to understand what is foreign and what is native to our bodies. NK-cells are “natural killer” cells that don’t require any training. Excessive alcohol disrupts the natural function of these other cells.
I'm not a doctor. I don't want to give you a guarantee but my common sense tells me if you're staying at home, you were considered as being healthy by your physician, you know what your tolerance levels are, and you decide that you are going to have few drinks you might be fine. The last thing I want to leave you with is another thing that weakens your immune system…stress… so if having one or two drinks decreases your stress then maybe it's worth the risk! Again, that's a question that you have to answer for yourself.
Sarkar, D., Jung, M. K., & Wang, H. J. (2015). Alcohol and the Immune System. Alcohol Research : Current Reviews, 37(2), 153–155.
Pasala, S., Barr, T., & Messaoudi, I. (2015). Impact of Alcohol Abuse on the Adaptive Immune System. Alcohol research : current reviews, 37(2), 185–197.