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How does alcohol consumption affect the immune system?

Innate vs. Adaptive Immunity
Alcohol and the Microbiome
How alcohol affects the innate immune system? Effects of Alcohol on Adaptive Immunity
Alcohol use and infection
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Although alcohol consumption is typically associated with liver damage, both moderate and chronic alcohol consumption can have a significant impact on the immune system, limiting the body’s ability to adequately protect itself against infection and disease.

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Innate vs. Adaptive Immunity

The immune system is typically divided into the innate and adaptive immune response systems, both of which are essential components in the body’s defense against pathogens.

While the innate immune response is immediate, it is not specific to any particular pathogen. Some of the most notable contributors to the innate immune response are natural killer cells (NK cells), neutrophils, monocytes, macrophages, and dendritic cells (DCs).

These cells are able to recognize pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) and pathogen recognition receptors (PRRs), enabling these cells to subsequently engulf pathogenic microorganisms. Notably, innate immune cells will secrete various cytokines and chemokines that eventually lead to an inflammatory response.

The adaptive immune system can be further divided into cell-mediated immunity and humoral immunity. While T cells are mainly involved in cell-mediated immunity, B cells play an important role in humoral immunity.

Alcohol and the Microbiome

The first point of contact for alcohol after consumption is the gastrointestinal (GI) system before it is absorbed into the bloodstream. Here, alcohol can damage the epithelial cells, T cells, and neutrophils in the GI tract, all of which can alter gut barrier function and cause gut microorganisms to leak into the bloodstream.

Within the GI tract, alcohol exposure can also alter the number and abundance of microorganisms in the microbiome, all of which play important roles in normal GI function. In addition to its adverse effects on GI functioning, alcohol’s impact on the GI microbiome can also alter the maturation and functions of the immune system.

How alcohol affects the innate immune system?

Several studies have demonstrated the dose-dependent effect alcohol has on preventing both monocytes and macrophages from binding to the bacterial cell wall component lipopolysaccharide (LPS).

Monocytes express Toll-like receptor (TLR) 4, the PRR often responsible for recognizing LPS on the surface of Gram-negative bacteria. Upon binding to LPS, monocytes are activated and mature into macrophages that travel to the site of infection to secrete important cytokines for the inflammatory response.

Each of these events is mediated by the activation of nuclear factor kappa B (NFκB), which can be inhibited by alcohol consumption and thus prevent the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. in vivo studies have confirmed that binge drinking with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of about 0.4% can reduce the production of several inflammatory cytokines, including interleukin-6 (IL-6), IL-10 and IL-12.

Image Credit: Juan Gaertner/

Image Credit: Juan Gaertner/

In addition to lab studies confirming the impact of alcohol consumption on the innate immune system, several studies have looked at how heavy drinking can alter plasmacytokine levels. To this end, one study analyzed the levels of IL-10, IL-6, IL-18 and tumor necrosis factor (TNF-α) in 25 untreated heavy drinkers after drinking an alcoholic beverage. The researchers reported significant reductions in TNF-α levels three and six hours after alcohol consumption.

Effects of Alcohol on Adaptive Immunity

The effects of alcohol on both cell-mediated and humoral immunity have been well documented since the early 1960s, with researchers finding that alcohol abuse significantly reduced both CD4 and CD8. T-cell counts. In the 1990s, researchers confirmed this finding, adding that heavy male drinkers who consumed between 90 and 249 alcoholic drinks per month had significantly lower B-cell counts compared to both moderate male drinkers who drank between 30 and 89 drinks per month. as light drinkers. who drank less than ten glasses a month.

While most research has focused on the effects of heavy alcohol consumption on the immune system, several studies have also confirmed that even moderate consumption can have significant effects on the immune system. For example, one study showed that women who drank 330 ml of beer for 30 days showed a significant increase in leukocytes, adult CD3 T cells, neutrophils and basophils. In contrast, men who consumed a similar moderate amount of beer during the same period showed a significant increase in basophils alone.

Alcohol consumption has also been shown to alter immunoglobulin (Ig) levels. To this end, heavy drinkers have been shown to show an increase in both IgA and IgM levels compared to both moderate and light male drinkers.

Alcohol use and infection

Alcohol’s ability to alter both the innate and adaptive immune systems inevitably impacts how the immune system of even a moderate alcohol drinker may respond to infections. In fact, alcohol consumption has been shown to increase drinkers’ susceptibility to both bacterial and viral infections and promote the progression of several chronic viral infections, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis C.

How does alcohol affect your immune system? – BBC

Several studies have also shown that the lungs are very vulnerable to the effects of alcohol. For example, alcohol can decrease the ability of respiratory epithelial cells to clear mucus from the lungs, which can damage lung tissue directly and weaken the proper functioning of the lungs over time. While this chronic weakening of lung function may not cause immediate symptoms, these effects can manifest when a severe respiratory infection occurs.


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