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Drinking Too Much Alcohol Can Impair the Body’s Ability to Fight Viral Infections

For patients with viral infections, alcohol consumption needs to be avoided, especially if taken in excessive amounts or over long periods of time.

New research published in BioMed Central’s open access journal BMC Immunology shows that excessive or frequent alcohol consumption may reduce the anti-viral effect of Type 1 interferon (IFN) whilst increasing inflammation via the pro-inflammatory cytokine TNFα.

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School looked at the effects of alcohol on monocytes collected from the blood of healthy volunteers. The study, led by Prof. Gyongyi Szabo, focussed specifically on two disease related pathways – Toll-like receptor 8 (TLR8) stimulated by single strand RNA viral attack and TLR4 which involved in recognizing bacteria.

The results showed that the activation of these pathways lead to an increase in the levels of the anti-viral cytokine IFN, however this was reduced by treatment with alcohol equivalent to 4 or 5 drinks a day for 7 days. Similarly, stimulation of these pathways resulted in an increase in the levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine TNFα. However, while a single treatment with alcohol decreased the amount of TNFα, prolonged treatment increased the levels of inflammation.

“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 weaken the body’s ability to fight viral infection. In addition, the pro-inflammatory cytokine TNFα, which promote inflammation increases along with prolonged alcohol consumption,” said Prof. Gyongyi.

“Prolonged alcohol consumption changes the immune balance of monocytes activation and impairs the body’s response to viral infections like hepatitis C,” she added.

Read also: 7 effects of excessive alcohol consumption on the body

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