Binge Drinking: Hard On Immune Systems, Especially For Young Adults

Binge drinking has more repercussions than young adults may be aware of. What better time to mention the effects of binge drinking than after young adults everywhere just spent the day tending to their hangovers after indulging in New Year’s Eve binge drinking? New research from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine found that binge drinking, besides altering behavior, compounding the likelihood of accidents, and inducing nasty hangovers, also reduces the body’s ability to fight infections and impairs the immune system.

Dr. Elizabeth Kovacs co-authored the Loyola research that was led by Dr. Majid Afshar, according to the press release from late December about the study published in the journal Alcohol. The study was entitled, “Acute Immunomodulatory Effects of Binge Alcohol Ingestion.”

In the study that investigated the immune effects of binge drinking, eight young men and eight young women drank enough alcohol to qualify as binge drinking. Four or five shots of vodka were consumed per person, according to Medical News Today. The 16 drunken participants had their blood taken 20 minutes after they reached their peak levels of intoxication. At this stage, the researchers noted that their immune systems “revved up,” but it didn’t stay that active, according to the researchers. Blood samples taken at two and five hours after the study’s participants were the most drunk showed that their immune systems were less active hours after becoming drunk than before they began their binge drinking.

“At 2 and 5 h post-alcohol binge, an anti-inflammatory state was shown with reduced numbers of circulating monocytes and natural killer cells, attenuated LPS-induced interleukin (IL)-1ß levels, and a trend toward increased interleukin (IL)-10 levels,” the authors noted, concluding that a “single episode of binge alcohol intoxication exerted effects on the immune system that caused an early and transient pro-inflammatory state followed by an anti-inflammatory state.”

Given that the hours following peak intoxication are when most accidents related to drinking occur, the researchers felt this was crucial information. They believe that the weakened immune system probably has an effect on how well the body heals, which would make an injury directly or indirectly caused by binge drinking even more risky.

Next, the team plans to examine the immune systems of burn unit patients. They will compare patients who had been binge drinking before entering the burn unit and those who had not been binge drinking. The outcomes of their healing will be compared in the future study to see if similar injuries are more dangerous following binge drinking than when people are sober.

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