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The Side Effect of Drinking That’s Even Worse Than a Hangover

BY CHRISTA SGOBBA,

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Drinking too much can leave you with a throbbing headache, rolling stomach, and toilet bowl full of last night’s bourbon. But in addition to making you feel awful, binge drinking might also actually raise your risk of coming down with an infection, suggests new research from the University of Maryland.

In the study, healthy young people slammed down enough alcohol—the equivalent of about 5 shots for guys—in 20 minutes to bring their breath alcohol content (BAC) to 0.1 percent. From 2 to 5 hours after they guzzled, they showed significant decreases in disease-fighting cells in their blood.

“These cells are major players in our innate immune system, which is kind of like the first-response system in our bloodstream when there is something that is not supposed to be there, like an infection, foreign body, or injury,”  says study author Majid Afshar, M.D., now of Loyola University Chicago. “They drive the immune system to fight it off.”

The people in the study actually showed a short-lived spike in these immune-boosting cells 20 minutes after boozing, but Dr. Afshar believes that was probably due to the stress response of glugging down the alcohol so quickly. The immune-suppressing effects later on, however, are more in line with alcohol’s direct effects on those types of cells.

Alcohol thwarts both the production of these disease-fighting cells and reduces their function, which hampers their ability to recruit other cells to help attack the invading infection, says Dr. Afshar.

The relationship is likely dose-dependent, meaning that the more shots you throw back in the bar, the less immune-boosting cells you’ll have ready to spring into action.

While this study didn’t directly measure how likely you are to pick up a bug after a night of boozing, it does suggest that you might be at greater risk of coming down with one—or developing a more severe form.

So cut yourself off after a couple well-spaced drinks, and keep your distance from known sickos. Bonus: You’ll be sober enough to turn down your sniffling-and-hacking buddy’s offer to take a taste of his cold-contaminated beer.