Vitamin D has long been known to have a critical role in calcium and phosphorous homeostasis. In addition, antigen presenting cells convert vitamin D to 1,25(OH)2VD3, a physiologically active form of vitamin D that is highly concentrated in lymphoid tissues (Mora, Iwata et al. 2008) where it can modulate function of T and B cells which express vitamin D receptors. Vitamin D deficiency results in reduced differentiation, phagocytosis and oxidative burst, by monocytes as well as defective bactericidal activity by keratinocytes (Fabri, Stenger et al. 2011, Djukic, Onken et al. 2014).

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A good place to start to receive treatment for alcohol use is to talk to your healthcare provider. They may be able to give you prescriptions, provide referrals to therapists, or talk to you about treatment programs. You can also ask your health insurance company for a list of in-network providers. When the body is unable to clear a pathogen, an infection can worsen and lead to more severe, life threatening complications.

Long-term effects of alcohol on the immune system

But when you’ve ingested too much alcohol for your liver to process in a timely manner, the toxic substance begins to take its toll on your body, starting with your liver. “The oxidative metabolism of alcohol generates molecules that inhibit fat oxidation in the liver and, subsequently, can lead to a condition known as fatty liver,” says Dr. Menon. Your liver detoxifies and removes alcohol from the blood through a process known as oxidation. If alcohol accumulates in the system, it can destroy cells and, eventually, organs. As we said before, your immune system protects your body from unwelcome invaders and certain types of cancers. The immune system is how your body defends itself from infections — like harmful bacteria and viruses — and prevents you from getting sick.

These disruptions to the composition of the gut microbiota and to gut barrier function have important implications beyond the intestinal system. For example, Nagy discusses how the leakage of bacterial products from the gut activate the innate immune system in the liver, triggering inflammation that underlies ALD, a condition that affects more than 2 million Americans and which eventually may lead to liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. Infection with viral hepatitis accelerates the progression of ALD, and end-stage liver disease from viral hepatitis, together with ALD, does alcohol weaken your immune system is the main reason for liver transplantations in the United States. The article by Dolganiuc in this issue explores the synergistic effects of alcohol and hepatitis viruses on the progression of liver disease as well as alcohol consumption’s injurious effect on liver antiviral immunity. Mandrekar and Ju contribute an article that homes in on the role of macrophages in ALD development, including recent insights into the origin, heterogeneity, and plasticity of macrophages in liver disease and the signaling mediators involved in their activation and accumulation.

Excessive alcohol use weakens the immune system

In a clinical case study reviewed in this issue, Trevejo-Nunez and colleagues report on systemic and organ-specific immune pathologies often seen in chronic drinkers. In such patients, alcohol impairs mucosal immunity in the gut and lower respiratory system. This impairment can lead to sepsis and pneumonia and also increases the incidence and extent of postoperative complications, including delay in wound closure. Bagby and colleagues review substantial evidence that alcohol further disrupts the immune system, significantly increasing the likelihood of HIV transmission and progression. Several studies have also shown that the lungs are highly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol.

does alcohol weaken your immune system

Alcohol can either activate or suppress the immune system depending on, for example, how much is consumed and how concentrated it is in the various tissues and organs. That dual action predisposes heavy drinkers both to increased infection and to chronic inflammation. These articles detail how alcohol affects the immune system and how researchers are harnessing this knowledge to help prevent and treat alcohol-related harm.

What Are the Immediate and Long-Term Health Benefits After You Stop Drinking Alcohol?

Alcohol also causes damage to the cells in the outside layer of your stomach and intestines. As a result, bacteria may leak from the GI tract into your bloodstream, which can itself make you sick. Also, bacteria that escape this area can change the immune system in your liver, which can lead to inflammation and, potentially, alcoholic liver disease. And it’s not just that you’re more likely to get a cold — excessive drinking is linked to pneumonia and other pulmonary diseases. It can also lead to a wide range of health problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease, liver disease, and increased risk of cancer.

  • In contrast, both acute (24 hours) and prolonged (7 days) exposure to low and high concentrations of acetaldehyde reduce TNF-α secretion by primary rat astrocyte (Sarc, Wraber et al. 2011).
  • With such conditions, the body’s immune system attacks not only invaders but also its own cells.
  • After 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.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) and U.S. surgeon general have warned people to avoid drinking too much alcohol during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Finally, an emerging informatics approach that can piece together these extensive data sets and build a network between the immune response elements, the HPA axis, and the time-course/dose response of ethanol while emphasizing in vivo studies from rodent, non human primate, and humans is urgently required.

In the lungs, for example, alcohol damages the immune cells and fine hairs that have the important job of clearing pathogens out of our airway. Alcohol–immune interactions also may affect the development and progression of certain cancers. Meadows and Zhang discuss specific mechanisms through which alcohol interferes with the body’s immune defense against cancer. They note, too, that a fully functioning immune system is vital to the success of conventional chemotherapy. The clinical management of all of these conditions may be more challenging in individuals who misuse alcohol because of coexisting immune impairment. Several studies have demonstrated the dose-dependent effect that alcohol has on preventing both monocytes and macrophages from binding to the bacterial cell wall component lipopolysaccharide (LPS).

Chronic drinking — for 12 to 15 years — can lead to a reduction in the number of T cells. Extremely heavy drinking — about 30 drinks per day — can throw off the balance of immune system cells. By illuminating the key events and mechanisms of alcohol-induced immune activation or suppression, research is yielding deeper insights into alcohol’s highly variable and sometimes paradoxical influences on immune function.