Newswise — MAYWOOD—While it may be tempting to drink more while quarantined at home, a Loyola Medicine doctor is urging moderation, as too much alcohol can diminish the body’s ability to fight off infections like COVID-19.

Majid Afshar, MD, a pulmonologist and critical care specialist and assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, has studied the effects of alcohol on the body’s immune system, as well as its impact on breathing and lung health. He warns that excessive alcohol use (at least four or five drinks over a few hours) can alter our cytokine response, or signaling proteins, which regulate the body’s immune response.

One of Dr. Afshar’s published studies, “Acute immunomodulatory effects of binge alcohol ingestion,” found 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.” These fluctuations in inflammation can affect the hormone levels, as well as the body’s ability to fight and heal from disease.

As little as two drinks a day for women and three drinks per day for men begins to “dysregulate our immune system. Alcohol does affect our frontline of defense, altering homeostasis (the body’s equilibrium) that is ideal for fighting infections like COVID-19,” says Dr. Afshar.

“We are in the midst of a pandemic,” says Dr. Afshar. “Those of us who do get sick are going to have to rely on our immune system to get through this. This is especially important for our most vulnerable populations”—the elderly, as well as anyone with diabetes, or heart, lung, and immune diseases and disorders.

Alcohol can also increase the number and severity of respiratory infections. The COVID-19 virus can lead to respiratory complications, especially in individuals with an alcohol use disorder. 

“High levels or unhealthy levels of alcohol consumption are not helpful for our immune system and impairs our ability to fight off infections,” said Dr. Afshar. 

“I wouldn’t say stop drinking altogether. But minimize and drink in moderation. Let’s do everything we can to stay healthy and protect ourselves. 

To learn more about Loyola Medicine, visit loyolamedicine.org.

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About Loyola Medicine and Trinity Health

Loyola Medicine, a member of Trinity Health, is a quaternary care system based in Chicago's western suburbs that includes Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC)Gottlieb Memorial HospitalMacNeal Hospital and convenient locations offering primary and specialty care services from more than 1,800 physicians throughout Cook, Will and DuPage counties. LUMC is a 547-licensed-bed hospital in Maywood that includes the William G. & Mary A. Ryan Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, a Level 1 trauma center, Illinois's largest burn center, a certified comprehensive stroke center and a children’s hospital. Having delivered compassionate care for more than 50 years, Loyola also trains the next generation of caregivers through its academic affiliation with Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine and Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. Gottlieb is a 247-licensed-bed community hospital in Melrose Park with 180 physician offices, an adult day care program, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research facility at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center. MacNeal Hospital is a 374-licensed-bed teaching hospital in Berwyn with advanced inpatient and outpatient medical, surgical and psychiatric services, including acute rehabilitation, an inpatient skilled nursing facility and a 68-bed behavioral health program and community clinics. MacNeal has provided quality, patient-centered care to the near west suburbs since 1919. For more information, visit loyolamedicine.org.

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic health care delivery systems in the nation, serving diverse communities that include more than 30 million people across 22 states. Trinity Health includes 92 hospitals, as well as 106 continuing care locations that include PACE programs, senior living facilities, and home care and hospice services. Its continuing care programs provide nearly 2 million visits annually. Based in Livonia, Mich., and with annual operating revenues of $19.3 billion and assets of $27 billion, the organization returns $1.2 billion to its communities annually in the form of charity care and other community benefit programs. Trinity Health employs about 129,000 colleagues, including about 7,500 employed physicians and clinicians.