Moderate alcohol consumption and the immune system: a review

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does alcohol lower immune system

But prolonged alcohol abuse can lead to chronic (long-term) pancreatitis, which can be severe. Having a glass of wine with dinner or a beer at a party here and there isn’t going to destroy your gut. But even low amounts of daily drinking and prolonged and heavy use of alcohol can lead to significant problems for your digestive system. But there’s plenty of research to back up the notion that alcohol does lead to weight gain in general. In reality, there’s no evidence that drinking beer (or your alcoholic beverages of choice) actually contributes to belly fat. Eventually, you can develop permanent and irreversible scarring in your liver, which is called cirrhosis.

  • Alcohol consumption does not have to be chronic to have negative health consequences.
  • Alongside ILCs, innate-like T lymphocytes participate in host defense against tissue damage or pathogenic insult prior to the adaptive immune response.
  • In addition to these changes in cytokine function, investigators also have shown a contribution of barrier dysfunction to the postinjury increase in infections in intoxicated people (Choudhry et al. 2004).
  • Soon after, the World Health Organization (WHO) also suggested that people cut back on drinking, since alcohol can increase the risk of experiencing complications from COVID-19.
  • These different layers of interaction make validation of the mechanisms by which alcohol affects immune function challenging.

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Similarly, alcohol can trigger inflammation in the gut and destroy the microorganisms that live in the intestine and maintain immune system health. When someone is exposed to a virus, the body mounts an immune response to attack and kill the foreign pathogen. “Excessive alcohol consumption can cause nerve damage and irreversible forms of dementia,” Dr. Sengupta warns. When you drink too much alcohol, it can throw off the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut.

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Cytokines are also proposed to cross the blood-brain barrier and produce sickness behavior (Watkins, Maier et al. 1995), which is comorbid with AUD (Dantzer, Bluthe et al. 1998). Ethanol administration (4g/kg) in male rats increased IL-6 but decreased TNF-α expression in PVN, an effect that was blunted or reversed after long-term ethanol self-administration (Doremus-Fitzwater, Buck does alcohol weaken your immune system et al. 2014). Cytokines can also modulate important behavioral functions including learning and memory (Hao, Jing et al. 2014) possibly due to their role in neuroplasticity (Sheridan, Wdowicz et al. 2014). Many gaps remain in our understanding of the stress response, its physiological basis in the HPA, axis and its role in modulating the effects of ethanol on host immunity.

The Immune System through the Lens of Alcohol Intake and Gut Microbiota

This increased susceptibility has been recapitulated in rodent models of chronic alcohol abuse. For instance, increased morbidity and mortality, pulmonary virus titers, and decreased pulmonary influenza-specific CD8 T cell responses were reported in female mice infected with influenza that consumed 20% (w/v) ethanol in their drinking water for 4–8 weeks (Meyerholz, Edsen-Moore et al. 2008). 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). As reviewed by Szabo and Saha, alcohol’s combined effects on both innate and adaptive immunity significantly weaken host defenses, predisposing chronic drinkers to a wide range of health problems, including infections and systemic inflammation.

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Similar findings were obtained in animal models, where the number of T cells in the spleen decreased in mice fed a liquid diet (i.e., Lieber-DeCarli diet) containing 7 percent ethanol for as little as 7 days (Saad and Jerrells 1991) or 6 percent ethanol for 28 days (Percival and Sims 2000). Likewise, adult male Sprague-Dawley rats consuming liquid diets containing up to 12 g ethanol/kg/day for 35 days exhibited significantly reduced absolute numbers of T cells (Helm et al. 1996). It is also critical to take into consideration that the effects of ethanol on immune function in vivo could involve the actions of its primary metabolite, acetaldehyde.

does alcohol lower immune system

That said, evidence also shows that even smaller amounts of alcohol can affect the immune system. “With COVID-19, alcohol is likely to interfere with an individual’s ability to clear SARS-CoV-2 and cause people to suffer worse outcomes, including ARDS, which commonly results in death,” Edelman said. Alcohol has been flying off the shelves as people try to combat boredom during lockdown, with some reports estimating that alcoholic beverage sales surged by 55 percent toward the end of March.

  • However, these studies are difficult to interpret, because several factors affect antitumor immunity in human alcoholics, including malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies, and liver cirrhosis.
  • Indeed, NFκB was down-regulated in the alcohol group compared with the control group (Joosten, van Erk et al. 2012).
  • Lowered RAS levels in turn induce dysregulation of the mitochondria (Kimura et al. 2005) and enhance production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that can damage various molecules in the cells (Iuchi et al. 2003).
  • A more recent study (Smith et al. 2004) reported that a negative correlation existed between the amount of alcohol consumed by the participants and the size of DTH skin test responses to a specific antigen (i.e., keyhole limpet hemocyanin).

The Adaptive Immune Response

  • Mice depleted of NK cells by anti-AsGM1 antibody treatment displayed increased hepatic triglyceride levels and decreased serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels following chronic ethanol exposure in mice, suggesting that NK cells mediate, in part, liver steatosis and injury.
  • Thus, alcohol intoxication can suppress chemokine production and impair the expression of proteins that allow neutrophils to adhere to other cells at the site of infection, which also contributes to increased susceptibility to infection.
  • Your liver detoxifies and removes alcohol from your blood through a process known as oxidation.
  • Microglia express PRRs, produce cytokines, and modulate neuroinflammatory reactions in brain injury and neurodegenerative diseases (Block, Zecca et al. 2007).

The highest production of SCFAs occurs in the proximal colon, where they are quickly and efficiently absorbed, since only 10% of the acids are excreted with the feces [73]. The rest of the SCFAs reach the circulatory system via the superior or inferior mesenteric vein, reaching the brain and crossing the blood–brain barrier thanks to monocarboxylate transporters thus being able to act as signaling molecules between the gut and the brain [74]. Specifically, chronic alcohol consumption could reduce the SCFAs count through the reduction in some Firmicutes genera, such as Faecalibacterium and Ruminococcaceae, on which the production of SCFAs depends [75,76].

does alcohol lower immune system

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Additional analyses detected evidence that T-cell proliferation in the spleen was increased in alcohol-consuming mice (Zhang and Meadows 2005). Together, these observations suggest that chronic alcohol consumption results in lymphopenia, which can increase homeostatic proliferation and accelerate conversion of naïve T cells into memory T cells (Cho et al. 2000). (A) The innate immune response is a very fast, pathogen-non-specific, first line of defense mechanism. It is mainly composed of macrophages, dendritic and natural killer cells, as well as different forms of granulocytes. The adaptive immune system is highly specific to a particular pathogen and is formed by B and T cells lymphocytes. (B) The gut microbiota is in close interaction with both the innate and the adaptive immune system.

Impact of AUD on B cells

A healthy gut microbiota is characterized by its richness and diversity in its composition [4]. Nevertheless, studies have shown that the normal gut microbiota comprises mainly Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes as the dominant phyla, followed by Actinobacteria and Verrucomicrobia. These gut commensals play an important role in specific functions like nutrient and drug metabolism, protection against pathogens, maintenance of structural integrity of gut mucosal barrier, among others [5,6]. With such conditions, the body’s immune system attacks not only invaders but also its own cells.


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