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Alcohol & Infection

November 4, 2011

Lab studies show how alcohol inhibits the immune system’s response to an infection.



Drinking’s drag on immunity. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Heavy drinking can weaken resistance to infections.  Now, researchers have new insights into why. University of Massachusetts Medical School professor Gyongi Szabo and her colleagues took blood from healthy volunteers, and isolated immune cells called monocytes.

GYONGYI SZABO (University of Massachusetts Medical School):
And then in a test tube, we exposed them to alcohol, at the concentration of alcohol that we know occurs in individuals after binge drinking, // so this would be a little bit above the legal limit.

Even a single dose of that much alcohol weakened the immune response to viral and bacterial attacks.  Prolonged exposure also increased markers of inflammation.  That’s especially relevant for chronic infections like hepatitis, in which inflammation is a key cause of organ damage.  Next, Szabo wants to find out if moderate drinking could have similar effects. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.