Study shows alcohol suppresses immune cells, making heavy drinkers more vulnerable to infection
Too much alcohol dulls more than your wits. It also weakens your immune system and could make you much more vulnerable to viruses, including HIV.
To see how alcohol affects resistance to infection, Gyongyi Szabo of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester and colleagues exposed monocytes – white blood cells involved in the front-line defence against infection – to chemicals that mimic viruses and bacteria. Half of the cells were also soused in the levels of alcohol that a person might have in their blood after quaffing four or five alcoholic drinks daily for a week.
Alcohol blunted the monocytes’ defences. When the over-the-limit cells were exposed to a virus mimic, they produced only a quarter as much of the virus-fighting signalling molecule called type-1 interferon as teetotal monocytes made.
“Interferon is pivotal, the first response to any viral infection,” says Szabo. “There’s no viral elimination without it.”