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Surprising Side Effects Alcohol Has On Your Immune System, Says Science

We outline just five potential adverse outcomes that could arise.
FACT CHECKED BY Kiersten Hickman

Look, most of us love ending our day with a glass of cabernet sauvignon or whiskey. But what happens when that happy hour indulgence turns into a reoccurring binge-drinking session?

There is a slew of negative health outcomes associated with heavy alcohol consumption, but we wanted to focus on the potential ways it can hinder your immune system. Because the pandemic isn't over yet, we figured most people could benefit from this information, especially as the weather improves and bar hopping becomes more of a thing!

And for even more drinking tips, be sure to check out our list of 108 Most Popular Sodas Ranked By How Toxic They Are.

1

It can change your gut microbiota.

Waitress with a face mask in a bar.
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According to a 2015 research paper published in Alcohol Research Current Reviews, alcohol alters the numbers and "relative abundances or microbes" in your gut microbiome. This a major concern, because this vast community of microorganisms in the intestines aid in normal gut function which then also affects how well the immune system works. In fact, about 70% of your immune system resides in your gut.

In short, alcohol can disrupt the communication between gut microbiota and your immune system.

2

Your likelihood of developing alcoholic liver disease increases.

Pouring whiskey drink into glass
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As a result of this disruption in communication between the microbiota in the gut and the intestinal immune system, harmful bacteria can then leak from the gut. This alerts the immune system in the liver to activate, which triggers an inflammatory response. Routine drinking can cause chronic inflammation in the liver and ultimately cause alcoholic liver disease (ALD). If ALD goes unmanaged, it can cause liver cirrhosis (late-stage scarring) and even liver cancer.

For more, be sure to check out Drinking Habits That May Cause Liver Damage, According to Science.

3

It could make you susceptible to pneumonia.

woman refusing or saying no to being poured a glass of wine alcohol
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According to recent research published in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine people with alcohol use disorder (AUD) are at higher risk of pneumonia. While AUD is a psychiatric diagnosis, in general, heavy alcohol consumption contributes to pneumonia in a number of ways. It starts, of course, in the gut when it alters healthful bacteria and impairs defensive mechanisms all the way up through the respiratory tract.

4

It could impair wound healing.

Man relaxing with bourbon whiskey drink alcoholic beverage in hand and using mobile smartphone
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Think about it—if your immune function is impaired, how can proper wound healing processes be carried out? A 2014 study from Loyola University Health System found that people who binge drink alcohol have a reduced amount of white blood cells (macrophages), which help to destroy bacteria that could enter the bloodstream after a car accident, for example. As a result, the open wound is much more likely to be delayed in closing and as a result, has a higher likelihood of becoming infected by bacteria.

5

Worsen your cold.

Woman with temperature staying home wrapped in scarf and drinking hot tea.
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This may seem to be the less severe of all of the potential side effects associated with high alcohol consumption, however, it likely affects you more than you know. However, drinking too much alcohol and dehydrate you and can worsen symptoms, primarily congestion. After all, alcohol suppresses the immune system so it could take you much longer to recover from your cold if you're drinking throughout the week.

For more don't miss Dangerous Side Effects of Drinking Alcohol Every Day, According to Science.

Cheyenne Buckingham
Cheyenne Buckingham is the news editor of <Eat This, Not That!, specializing in food and drink coverage, and breaking down the science behind the latest health studies and information. Read more
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