The Immune System through the Lens of Alcohol Intake and Gut Microbiota PMC

But drinking can weaken this system, leaving us vulnerable to infections and diseases. Alcohol use disorder is a pattern of alcohol use that involves problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol or continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems. This disorder also involves having to drink more to get the same effect or having withdrawal symptoms when you rapidly decrease or stop drinking. Alcohol use disorder includes a level of drinking that’s sometimes called alcoholism.

  • Organs known to be damaged by long-term alcohol misuse include the brain and nervous system, heart, liver and pancreas.
  • Besides in the liver, the enzymes involved in the oxidative metabolism of alcohol also are present in the intestinal mucosa and intestinal bacteria also produce acetaldehyde in the gastrointestinal tract [41].
  • Their ability to serve as antigen presenting cells and produce cytokines in vivo has been controversial (Dong and Benveniste 2001).
  • It is an immediate and rapid response that is activated by any pathogen it encounters (i.e., is nonspecific); in addition, it plays a key role in the activation of the second level of the immune response, termed the adaptive or acquired immunity.
  • 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.

These different layers of interaction make validation of the mechanisms by which alcohol affects immune function challenging. Significant differences between the immune system of the mouse—the primary model organism used in immune studies—and that of humans also complicate the translation of experimental results from these animals to humans. Moreover, the wide-ranging roles of the immune system present significant challenges for designing interventions that target immune pathways without producing undesirable side effects. Chronic excessive alcohol consumption causes inflammation in a variety of organs, including the gut, brain and liver. While alcohol has direct effects on the gastrointestinal tract when it comes into touch with the mucosa, the majority of alcohol’s biological effects are due to its systemic dispersion and delivery through the blood.

How does alcohol affect your immune system?

Monocytes are an immature form of these cells that circulate in the blood until they are alerted to the presence of a pathogen in a particular tissue. Once they are at the site of infection, they swell in size and develop into the mature defensive cells—the macrophages—that enter the tissues. After eliminating pathogens by phagocytosis, the monocytes exhibit pathogen-derived proteins and other molecules (i.e., antigens) on their surfaces. Finally, monocytes and macrophages also produce certain cytokines that help regulate immune system activity.

  • Examples include certain cancers, as well as pneumonia and other respiratory problems.
  • Alcohol use has also been shown to drive disease progression in chronic viral infections such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (Baum, Rafie et al. 2010) and Hepatitis C (Bhattacharya and Shuhart 2003).
  • This alcohol-induced defect in Th1 immunity correlates with suppression of IL-12 secretion by macrophages and dendritic cells (Waltenbaugh et al. 1998).
  • In addition to pneumonia, alcohol consumption has been linked to pulmonary diseases, including tuberculosis, respiratory syncytial virus, and ARDS.
  • As discussed above in the gene expression studies, the mechanisms by which ethanol exerts dose-dependent effects on the immune system could also include modulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which tightly regulates the stress response, in turn affecting immunity.

Drinking large amounts of alcohol for many years will take its toll on many of the body’s organs and may cause organ damage. Organs known to be damaged by long-term alcohol misuse include the brain and nervous system, heart, liver and pancreas. With bars closed and parties called off due to the coronavirus pandemic, many Americans are replacing in-person drinks with virtual happy hours. And as the country’s drinking habits adapt to social distancing, our alcohol consumption appears to be going up. If your pancreas and liver don’t function properly due to pancreatitis or liver disease, you could experience low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia.

Interplay Between Alcohol-Induced Stress & Immunity

They may be able to give you prescriptions, provide referrals to therapists, or talk to you about treatment programs. One study found that people who got less than 7 hours of sleep were nearly three times more likely to develop a cold compared with those who got 8 or more hours of sleep.

These adaptive immune cells include T cells, B cells, and natural killer T cells (NKTs), which must cooperate in a controlled manner to mount an effective response (Castellino and Germain 2006; Mitchison 2004). T cells in turn fall into several different categories, including helper T cells, also known as CD4+ cells; cytotoxic T cells, also called CD8+ cells; Th17 cells; and regulatory T (Treg) cells (table 1). As the name implies, helper T cells help control the activity of does alcohol weaken your immune system other immune cells by producing and secreting various cytokines. By incompletely understood mechanisms, alcohol abuse leads to a disruption of the intestinal barrier integrity which in combination with the mucosal injury induced by alcohol, increases the permeability of the mucosa [55]. The intestinal barrier is a semipermeable structure that allows the uptake of essential nutrients and immune sensing while being restrictive against pathogenic molecules and bacteria [56].