Alcohol can affect a person’s health in several ways, with most people being aware of what excessive drinking can do to the liver and cardiovascular system. However, not many people are aware that alcohol can also negatively impact immunity, increasing the risk of catching illnesses.
Healthy habits, such as being active, eating well, and getting enough sleep, can keep your immune system in check. But when unhealthy factors, like stress, smoking, or drinking alcohol, are also in the picture, it may be harder for your immune system to fight off an invading virus.
The gastrointestinal (GI) system is the first point of contact for alcohol as it passes through the body and is then absorbed into the bloodstream. An immediate effect of alcohol is that it affects the structure and integrity of the GI tract. Alcohol alters the numbers and relative abundances of microbes in the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is home to trillions of microorganisms that perform several crucial roles for your health, so when alcohol is in your system, it can affect those microorganisms’ ability to support your immune system.
Alcohol consumption also damages important cells in the GI system, which disrupts gut barrier function, making it easier for pathogens to cross into your bloodstream.
When a person comes into contact with a harmful substance, the body mounts an immune response to attack and kill the foreign invader. In most cases, the healthier a person’s immune system is, the quicker it can clear out a virus. However, unhealthy factors like excessive alcohol consumption, can make it harder for the immune system to defend the body.
Alcohol affects the function of several important cells that help protect the body from infection. The bacteria-fighting white blood cells become sluggish and much less efficient when excessive alcohol is in the body. Alcohol damages the immune cells in the lungs as well, which are essential for clearing pathogens out of the airway.
Alcohol makes it difficult for your body to properly tend to its other critical functions. According to the Cleveland Clinic, as soon as you take a drink of alcohol, your body makes metabolizing it a priority over several other bodily functions.
Additionally, alcohol can contribute to poor quality sleep. Sleep is crucial when it comes to a strong immune system. During sleep, the immune system releases proteins called cytokines. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation. However, when you don’t get enough sleep, there may be a decreased production of these protective proteins.
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