Alcohol, your immune system & Covid-19

Did you know that excess alcohol intake can impair many aspects of the immune system?

Our immune system is designed to protect us from disease and foreign bodies. The immune system is complex, comprising the innate immune process (you are born with it) and the adaptive immune process (it develops in response to specific threats).

COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways. The HSE advises that you are more at risk of serious illness if you catch coronavirus and you have a weak immune system (immunosuppressed), among other at-risk groups.

ALCOHOL’S IMPACT ON THE IMMUNE SYSTEM

Right now, as we are in challenging times, we may be tempted to drink more often. This may be caused by feelings of anxiety, isolation or boredom. But drinking too much can disrupt the immune system in a number of ways.

Firstly, to understand excess alcohol intake, it’s important to know the HSE low-risk weekly guidelines: men should have no more than 17 standard drinks in a week, and women no more than 11 standard drinks in a week. In addition, binge drinking is defined as six standard drinks in one sitting (e.g. three pints of beer), and we should aim to have at least two alcohol-free days per week.

The innate immune system includes the cells lining the lungs and the gut. Drinking excessively on a regular basis can make the gut or lungs more permeable (leaky) and reduce the physical barrier to infections. Even an acute episode of excess alcohol (binge drinking) can reduce your ability to fight off an infection.

In addition, antigen response and anti-body production can be impaired by alcohol excess. Much of our learning on this comes from work done with other viral infections such as HIV, hepatitis and lung infections.

KEEPING HEALTHY DURING COVID-19

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has mentioned limiting alcohol intake as one of the suggestions to keep us healthy and fight Covid-19 if we get it. Here are some tips from a recent WHO press briefing:

  • Eat healthy to keep your immune system strong
  • Limit alcohol and sugary drinks
  • Don’t smoke
  • Try to get 30 minutes of exercise every day
  • If you can’t leave the house, dance, do some yoga or run up and down the stairs!
  • Try to limit social media to get your mind off the crisis. Watch a box set, read or play games with your family.

FOLLOW HSE GUIDANCE TO SLOW THE SPREAD OF COVID-19

  • Wash your hands properly and regularly with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a bent elbow or tissue when you cough and sneeze. Throw the tissue away and wash your hands.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Maintain physical distancing. Keep at least 2 metres (6.5ft) between you and other people.
  • Wear a face covering on public transport, in shops and other indoor settings – this is the law, you may be fined or refused entry if you don’t wear one. Read the full list of locations where face coverings are required
  • If you feel unwell, stay at home and follow HSE advice
  • Download the COVID-19 Tracker App now