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Is Alcohol Putting Your Immune System at Risk?

By Sonja Fung, ND
Online alcohol sales have soared 477 percent compared to last year.

2020 has been a monster of a year, with shelter-in-place orders and constant, head-spinning policy changes. It’s no wonder people fall back to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as poor eating and drinking habits. 

In April, the World Health Organization issued a press release warning against alcohol consumption. At the same time, according to Nielsen ratings, online alcohol sales soared 477 percent compared to last year, and Statistica showed a 40 percent growth in retail alcohol sales from February to May 2020 in the U.S. 

But there are many reasons to take a serious look at your drinking habits to keep you safe and healthy in today’s COVID-covered world.

Chronic alcohol use, especially heavy or binge drinking, inflames epithelial cell lining (your first line of immune defense in your nose, throat, and GI system), reduces the activity of white blood cells (your defenders in your blood), funnels energy away from other metabolic functions such as cellular repair, directly interferes with liver detoxification, impairs quality of sleep, contributes to weight gain, and creates an imbalance in your gut bugs. 

A strong immune system starts with the gut. Your intestines make up 70 percent of your immune system called GALT (gut-associated lymphatic tissue). A healthy gut protects you from bacteria, viruses and parasites, and maintains your immune system by digesting and absorbing vitamins and nutrients from your food to fuel your body. 

Given these facts, are you willing to risk your health for one more drink?

Heavy drinking is defined as more than two servings of alcohol for males and one serving of alcohol for females a DAY. One serving of alcohol is 5 ounces of wine (at 12% ABV), one 12-ounce beer (at 5% ABV), and 1.5 ounces of spirits (at 40% ABV). 

Heavy drinking has immediate negative effects on your body by depressing your immune system and puts you at risk for many chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s/dementia and cancer. Because of these risk factors, there is no “safe” level of recommended alcohol intake. 

Let’s be clear; I’m not telling you to stop drinking alcohol. However, it is important to make informed decisions about your health. Please be mindful of the physiological and mental/emotional consequences on your body and in your living space. Changing your routine and finding other outlets to help you reduce stress can be a much healthier solution.

Create a balanced daily quarantine-routine

Your body is designed to function optimally by maintaining a homeostatic environment, (i.e., perfect balance). One of the best things you can do to keep your body in balance is to create a balanced lifestyle, including adequate nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress reduction. In stressful times, it is vital to maintain as much balance as possible. 

In general, you can support your immune system by incorporating these good habits:

Move your body. Get adequate exercise every day as part of your stress reduction. Individuals who receive 40 minutes of moderate exercise daily reduce sick days by 50 percent. 

Practice stress reduction. Chronic stress decreases the function of our immune system. A daily system of stress reduction, either through prayer, meditation, exercise, etc. can help enhance your immune system and overall well-being. 

Get adequate rest. A full eight hours of rest every night allows your body to recover from the wear and tear of everyday stress and helps your body rejuvenate.

Practice safe socializing. Connection improves your immune system! Online game nights and social time can improve mood and de-stress your body. Try skipping the drinks next time.

Eat cleanly. Avoid inflammatory foods such as excess sugar, alcohol, dairy and starches. Reduce the amount of fast food or packaged foods you’re consuming and focus on green veggies, lean protein, and healthy fats. Chronic inflammation decreases your ability to digest and absorb nutrients from your food, and thus, your body’s normal function, resulting in a disturbed gut and decreased immune strength. Avoid sugary foods and beverages, including soda, juices, and alcohol; one teaspoon of sugar decreases your body’s immune system by 50 percent for the next five to eight hours! 

These changing times are challenging for all. If you are struggling with your coping mechanisms, seek professional help from the many resources available in our community. 

Dr. Sonja Fung is a primary care naturopathic doctor at Live Well Clinic in La Quinta. She has a focus on integrative cancer care and PRP regenerative joint injections for pain. For more information, call (760) 771.5970 or visit www.livewellclinic.org. Follow us on Instagram @livewellclinic. 

Sources:
1) https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohols-effects-body;
2) https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/what-standard-drink;
3) https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320969;
4) https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/alcohol/art-20044551;
5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3887500/;
6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7398701/;
7) https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/disease-prevention/alcohol-use/news/news/2020/04/alcohol-does-not-protect-against-covid-19-access-should-be-restricted-during-lockdown;
8) https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/article/2020/rebalancing-the-covid-19-effect-on-alcohol-sales/;
9) https://www.statista.com/statistics/805026/beer-wine-and-liquor-store-sales-us-by-month/;
10) https://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/437608/Alcohol-and-COVID-19-what-you-need-to-know.pdf;
11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590612/;
12) https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/cold-guide/10-immune-system-busters-boosters#1;
13) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32311498/;
14) https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article-abstract/26/11/1180/4732762

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