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Surprising Science

How Alcohol Dulls the Immune System

Too much alcohol dulls more than your wits. It also weakens your immune system and could make you much more vulnerable to viruses, including H.I.V.

What’s the Latest Development?

Researchers have found that consistent alcohol use weakens the immune system and makes individuals more susceptible to viruses, including H.I.V. In an experiment, University of Massachusetts Medical School scientists exposed white blood cells—the body’s first line of defense against disease—to chemicals that mimic viruses and bacteria. Half the white blood cells were soaked in alcohol, the equivalent of four or fives drinks daily for a week. The cells exposed to alcohol made only a quarter of the special virus-fighting molecule as healthy cells did. 

What’s the Big Idea?

The research is consistent with data that shows heavy drinkers with H.I.V. die sooner than infected teetotalers and that sober cancer patients are better at keeping the disease at bay. Lead researcher Gyongyi Szabo says that heavy drinkers should be aware that they are not only damaging their brain but their immune system as well. “Mark Hutchinson of the University of Adelaide in South Australia says that the results tally with post-mortem data showing that chronic drinkers have less immune chemicals in their blood than normal.”


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