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Alcohol vs. Your Immune System

Updated: Jul 25, 2021

The news outlets have been rife with stories of alcohol sales rocketing through the roof over the past 6 weeks since the prospect, and the enforcement, of lockdown occurred. There have been various health organisations, consultants and nutritionists giving their opinions (hopefully evidence based opinions!) on the risks of increased alcohol intake.

So we have collated some of the most relevant information from various studies on how alcohol can adversely affect your immune system. A weakened immune system could leave you more susceptible to infections, bacteria & viruses (oh, hey corona!). We don't want to be a buzzkill, as we ourselves love a cheeky glass of wine, however, this is to raise awareness of what a big increase in alcohol could potentially leave us exposed to.

Alcohol can affect your health in many different ways. Most people are aware that excessive drinking can damage your liver and cardiovascular system. It can also damage your digestive system, leading to malnutrition and even increasing your risk of cancer. Many people see these conditions as problems for the distant future.

There are a number of ways alcohol impairs your immune system, making you more likely to get sick.

First, it’s important to know that the microbes living in your intestines, your gut’s microbiome, plays 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 has many negative effects on your digestive system. It damages the epithelial cells in your intestines, making it harder to absorb nutrients and vitamins. It also severely disturbs your gut’s microbiome, significantly altering the balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria.

Alcohol affects the way healthy gut microbes interact with the immune system. Alcohol also disrupts the gut barrier, allowing more bad bacteria to pass into the blood. These rogue bacteria can cause inflammation in the liver and may lead to liver damage.

Alcohol doesn’t just affect the function of the digestive tract - it also affects the respiratory system. This occurs because excessive drinking can impair the function of our normal immune cells in the lungs and upper respiratory system, leading to increased risk for pneumonia, tuberculosis, and acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS. Because the immunity of the mucus is impaired in both the lungs and digestive tract, any disease can become more severe.

For those unaware, Covid-19 attacks our respiratory system, so it would love a weakened immune system & a weakened respiratory tract.

Studies have even found that heavy drinking increases your risk of contracting HIV. Excessive drinking reduces the number and function of three important kinds of cells in your immune system–macrophages, T and C cells. Macrophages are the first line of defence against any disease. They eat anything that’s not supposed to be there, including cancerous cells, and they sound the alarm if pathogens are present. T cells are antibodies to specific pathogens. They are the reason vaccines work and why you can’t get chicken pox twice.

Your T cells already know how to kill those specific kinds of viruses. B cells are white blood cells that secrete cytokines that attack bacteria. When B and T cells are suppressed, your immune system is less efficient at identifying and destroying invading pathogens.

Although regular heavy drinking is clearly the worst for your immune system, binge drinking can also knock out your 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 happen to be passing someone with coronavirus or touching a surface that may have become contaminated, you are more at risk of becoming infected.

Nevermind the hundreds of calories present in just ONE glass of wine! Enjoy your drink responsibly and in moderation. Stick to good hand hygiene techniques, clean surfaces we often touch regularly (door handles, sides, counters, tables, chairs, door frames etc) and keep up that good old fashioned social distancing. We've got this, as long as we play it safe.

Thanks for reading,

The Slim Transformation Team

If you need any qualified, free, confidential advice on alcohol, check out the UK government's official drink website for a list of organisations that are trained to help:

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