Alcohol abuse has long-term consequences, especially when the consumer already suffers from a disease. It affects almost every system in our bodies, particularly the liver, the brain and the digestive track. Injuries take longer to heal in drinkers and the immune system is weakened, only partially able to fight against viral infections, including HIV and Hepatitis C.
A recent study published in the journal ‘BMC Immunology’ shows that alcohol consumption leads to the altering of the anti-viral and inflammatory functions of monocytes, white blood cells. The research, led by Prof Gyongyi Szabo from the University of Massachusetts Medical School tested the effects of alcohol on these cells of the immune system, using blood samples from healthy volunteers and focusing on two disease related pathways.
With the activation of these pathways, the cytokine (protein molecules secreted by the monocytes) level grew, but it was reduced after a seven-day alcohol intake. ‘Alcohol has a profound effect of inhibiting IFN production in monocytes regardless of whether the danger signal is intracellular (TLR8) or surface-derived (TLR4). Such a reduction would impair the body’s ability to fight off infection. Additionally, the fact that Type I IFN production is depressed despite increased levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine, TNF?, due to chronic alcohol exposure suggests that prolonged alcohol must change the immune balance of monocyte activation and impair host response to single-stranded virus infection like hepatitis C’, concluded Prof Szabo.