Alcohol is bad news for your immune system – so maybe it's time to ditch 'wine o'clock' for good
Yes, we know it – these are strange, unprecedented days.
But if you are relying on a glass (or two or three) of wine (or gin) at night to steady your frazzled nerves after all the working from home and Zoom conferences, then you might just be doing yourself a massive disfavour.
Alcohol, as it happens, is really bad news for your immune system. And this, potentially, isn't the greatest of things when we are slap bang in the middle of a global pandemic, no? When we really need our immune systems to be working at their most efficient and best to keep us strong and healthy.
The really bad news? A weakened immune system is more susceptible to infections.
The immune system, much spoked about these days, is how your body defends itself from infections — like harmful bacteria and viruses — and prevents you from getting sick. But here's the thing: Just like a muscle, the immune system can become weak and fail to protect you against infection as well.
We can strengthen our immune systems by getting enough sleep, keeping active, getting enough vitamin D (sunshine is best, supplements will suffice) and eating a balanced diet rich in plants and with plenty of fruits and vegetables. However, unhealthy factors, like stress, smoking, or drinking alcohol, are very taxing for your immune system and make it harder for it to fight off infection.
What does alcohol do to your immune system?
According to the Mayo Clinic, one of the major problems with drinking too much alcohol is that it alters the makeup of your gut microbiome – which is home to trillions of microorganisms performing several crucial roles for your health — and, hence, in turn, affects those microorganisms' ability to support your immune system. It seems that drinking alcohol may also damage the immune cells that line the intestines and serve as the first line of defense against bacteria and viruses.
"By damaging those cells in your intestines, it can make it easier for pathogens to cross into your bloodstream. That is, by drinking too much, you decrease your body's defensive mechanisms to fight off a cold, virus, or other bacterial or viral infections."
A 2015 study in the journal Alcohol found that binge drinking can reduce infection-fighting white blood cells known as monocytes in the hours after peak intoxication, essentially weakening your immune system.
Even worse – especially in these coronavirus times? Excessive drinking is also directly linked to pneumonia and other pulmonary diseases. You know, as well the problems we are already aware it affects, such as your heart health, blood pressure, and liver function.
"Drinking alcohol in large quantities even just for a short period of time — can be bad for your health and your immune system," says Favini.
So there you go – not a put a damper on all those 'quarantinos' but how about maybe just making yourself a lovely smoothie instead...?