Binge Drinking Can Temporarily Weaken Immune System

Binge drinking can weaken the immune system and undermine the body's ability to fight infection for at least 24 hours afterwards by inhibiting certain signaling molecules that launch pro-inflammatory responses, according to research published in the journal BMC Immunology.

Previous studies involving mice demonstrated that binge drinking, defined as drinking large amounts of alcohol over a short period of time with the intention of getting drunk, inhibits the body from making cytokines – signaling molecules that launch immune responses to infection.

During the study, lead researcher Stephen Pruett focused on the effect heavy drinking had on the TLR4 protein which plays a vital role in recognizing pathogens and then triggering production of the appropriate cytokines. They then tested the in vivo and in vitro effects of alcohol on cytokines and TLR4 and discovered that acute exposure to alcohol stops the body from making key pro-inflammatory cytokines.

The results from the in vivo and in vitro testes were similar except, in live mice, researchers were able to discern more detail about ethanol’s ability to inhibit a DNA transcription activator that is known to control expression of some cytokines inhibited by alcohol. The researchers found that the after effects lasted for a day at least. Some cytokines were still impaired 24 hours after the binge.

Pruett responded to his findings by saying, “The time frame during which the risk of infection is increased might be at least 24 hours. A persistent effect of ethanol on cells is indicated, such that inhibition of the response of some cytokines occurs even after the ethanol is cleared.”


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