From today's New Scientist
Alcohol suppresses immune cells, making heavy drinkers more vulnerable to infection
Too much alcohol dulls more than your wits. It also weakens your immune system and could make you more vulnerable to viruses.
Gyongyi Szabo at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester and colleagues exposed monocytes – white blood cells involved in the defence against infection – to chemicals that mimic viruses and bacteria. Half of the cells were also soused in the levels of alcohol that a person might have in their blood after quaffing four or five alcoholic drinks daily for a week.
When the over-the-limit cells were exposed to a virus mimic, they made only a quarter as much of the virus-fighting signalling molecule type-1 interferon as teetotal monocytes made. Monocytes exposed to alcohol and a bacterial chemical not only made half as much type-1 interferon as their abstemious equivalents, they also overproduced an inflammatory chemical called tumour necrosis factor-alpha that in high volumes can damage tissue.