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Alcohol & Your Immune System

Alcohol & Your Immune System

Alcohol affects the body’s defenses against bacteria and viruses by damaging the cells that are key to the immune system working normally, causing inflammation in the gut (Sarkar et al, 2015), and disturbing sleep (Cohen et al, 2009). 


When the cells of the immune system are damaged or killed due to alcohol consumption the body is less able to protect itself from pathogens. 


Alcohol alters the numbers and relative abundances of microbes in the gut microbiome, an extensive community of microorganisms in the intestine that aid in normal, healthy gut function (Sarkar et al, 2015).  


Consuming alcohol, at any rate, has shown to impact sleep.  One study (Pietilä et al, 2009) compared sleep quality among participants who consumed different number of alcoholic drinks. For women in the study, the results were as follows. 

  • Less than one drink decreased sleep quality by 9.3%.  
  • One drink decreased sleepy quality by 24%.  
  • More than one drink decreased sleep quality by 39.2%. 


Decreasing alcohol intake can be challenging since it’s the center of many social events. Mocktails are a great way to cut back while still taking part! 


Are mimosas a staple of your brunch? Instead of champagne, try using grapefruit, orange, or lemon sparking water in your juice. You still get to enjoy the bubbly. For an extra punch, add a splash of non-alcoholic grenadine.  


For whiskey drinkers, you can recreate an Old Fashioned with barley tea instead of whiskey. Since Whiskey is Add bitter, orange, and cherry as usual.  


The best part? You can sip away without a headache the next day. 



  1. Sarkar D, Jung MK, Wang HJ. Alcohol and the Immune System. Alcohol Res. 2015;37(2):153-155. 
  2. Cohen S, Doyle WJ, Alper CM, Janicki-Deverts D, Turner RB. Sleep Habits and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(1):62–67. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2008.505 
  3. Pietilä J, Helander E, Korhonen I, Myllymäki T, Kujala UM, Lindholm H. Acute Effect of Alcohol Intake on Cardiovascular Autonomic Regulation During the First Hours of Sleep in a Large Real-World Sample of Finnish Employees: Observational Study. JMIR Ment Health. 2018;5(1):e23. Published 2018 Mar 16. doi:10.2196/mental.9519 

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