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LMU 157 – The Hidden Effects of Alcohol: Weakening Your Body’s Defences


LMU 157 – The Hidden Effects of Alcohol: Weakening Your Body's Defences

Source: Multiple Peer-reviewed Scientific Journals

Lifestyle Medicine Update (April 1, 2020)


In previous Lifestyle Medicine Updates, we’ve delved into the intricate connection between nutrition, lifestyle, and the functioning of our immune system. Today, our spotlight shines exclusively on the often-overlooked role of alcohol consumption in compromising the body’s immune defences, particularly concerning the risk of respiratory tract infections and pneumonia. While we often associate alcohol with social gatherings and relaxation, the impact it has on our immune system paints a less appealing picture. As we explore this topic, we’ll uncover how even modest alcohol consumption can impair your body’s ability to fend off infections and why avoiding or judiciously using alcohol is a proactive strategy for a stronger immune system.

Section 1: The Sobering Reality of Alcohol and Immunity

To understand the relationship between alcohol and immunity, we start with a quote from a 2015 study in Alcohol Research: “Clinicians have long observed an association between excessive alcohol consumption and adverse immune-related health effects such as susceptibility to pneumonia.” This association extends to conditions like acute respiratory stress syndromes (ARDS), sepsis, alcoholic liver disease (ALD), certain cancers, a higher incidence of postoperative complications, and a slower, less complete recovery from infections and physical trauma, including poor wound healing. The message is clear: the more you drink, the more you suppress your immune function, increasing the risk of infections and cancer development.

Section 2: No Safe Threshold – Alcohol and Immunity

While excessive alcohol consumption undoubtedly poses a significant threat to the immune system, research suggests that even small amounts of alcohol can weaken its defences. Some experts propose that alcohol may exert an “all-or-none” effect on the immune response, implying that the mere presence or absence of alcohol, rather than the amount consumed, dictates how the immune system responds. Recent studies corroborate these concerns. A 2020 update report highlights that alcohol can impair crucial immune cells in the lungs and damage the epithelial cells lining the lung’s surface, which is where viruses like COVID-19 can attack. Even acute binge drinking can negatively impact the immune system. Moreover, a 2015 review explains that alcohol impairs the function of vital immune cells guarding the respiratory tract, such as alveolar macrophages and neutrophils. It also weakens the tissue lining the lower airways, making it easier for viruses and bacteria to infiltrate and initiate infections. Additionally, alcohol disrupts the normal action of cilia, fine hair-like projections that usually sweep viruses and bacteria out of the respiratory tract to prevent infection. The adverse effects of alcohol don’t stop there; it also disrupts the gut’s microflora, killing off friendly gut bacteria crucial for promoting overall immunity. Furthermore, it damages the intestinal lining, allowing more viruses and bacteria to leak into the bloodstream.

Section 3: The Alarming Stats – Alcohol’s Toll on Health

The statistics are alarming. A quote from the Addiction Campus website highlights that individuals who consume alcohol at higher-than-moderate levels experience double the rate of pneumonia, alongside an increased rate of tuberculosis, hepatitis C, and cancer. They also face a greater risk of exposure to hepatitis B, HIV, and other infections. It’s not just the quantity; even moderate alcohol consumption can be detrimental to the immune system’s integrity.

Section 4: Unmasking Alcohol’s Immune Effects in the Era of COVID-19

In today’s pandemic-stricken world, understanding alcohol’s impact on immunity is more crucial than ever. Alcohol not only impairs immune cells but also damages the lungs’ lining, rendering individuals more susceptible to respiratory infections. This damage often goes unnoticed until a secondary insult, like a respiratory infection, leads to more severe lung diseases. The link between alcohol and weakened immunity is particularly relevant in the era of COVID-19, where strong respiratory health is imperative.

Section 5: A Sobering Choice for a Stronger Immune System

In a world where bolstering your immune system is a top priority, it’s essential to consider the role of alcohol in your lifestyle. To maintain a resilient defence against infections, especially respiratory tract infections, avoiding alcohol altogether or consuming it judiciously becomes an essential proactive strategy. By doing so, you take a significant step toward ensuring your immune system remains robust and ready to face the challenges that life may bring.

Conclusion: The Power of Informed Choices

As we navigate the intricate landscape of immunity, we uncover the hidden effects of alcohol on our body’s defence mechanisms. Beyond the immediate pleasure, alcohol can have sobering consequences, weakening our immune system’s ability to protect us from infections and potentially life-threatening diseases. Informed choices, like moderating or eliminating alcohol consumption, become invaluable tools in maintaining our health and safeguarding our well-being.


  1. Sarkar D, Jung M, Wang HJ. Alcohol and the immune system. Alcohol Research. 2015; 37(2):153-155. [Link]
  2. Addiction Campus. The effect of alcohol abuse on the immune system. (2019). [Link]
Eat Smart, Live Well, Look Great,

Dr. Meschino

Dr. James Meschino


Dr. James Meschino, DC, MS, ROHP, is an educator, author, and researcher having lectured to thousands of healthcare professionals across North America. He holds a Master’s Degree in Science with specialties in human nutrition and biology and is recognized as an expert in the field of nutrition, anti-aging, fitness, and wellness as well as the author of numerous books.

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