Alcohol & Your Immune System
In this episode, host Molly Watts discusses the importance of changing drinking habits to establish a peaceful relationship with alcohol. She emphasizes the need to enjoy alcohol responsibly, without guilt, and highlights the supportive community available on platforms like Facebook for those aiming to modify their relationship with alcohol. Watts draws attention to the impact of alcohol on the immune system, citing scientific evidence that even a single episode of drinking can suppress the immune system for up to 24 hours. Chronic heavy alcohol use weakens lung immune responses, increases the risk of respiratory illnesses, and alters the gut microbiome, crucial for overall health. Watts urges listeners to refrain from excessive alcohol consumption, especially during illnesses, as it worsens symptoms and dehydration. She encourages embracing low-risk drinking limits, emphasizing the potential benefits to the immune system.
Welcome to the alcohol minimalist podcast. I am your host, Molly watts. If you want to change your drinking habits and create a peaceful relationship with alcohol, you’re in the right place. This podcast explores the strategies I used to overcome a lifetime of family alcohol abuse, more than 30 years of anxiety and worry about my own drinking, and what felt like an unbreakable daily drinking habit. Becoming an alcohol minimalist means removing excess alcohol from your life. So it doesn’t remove you from life. It means being able to take alcohol or leave it without feeling deprived. It means to live peacefully, being able to enjoy a glass of wine without feeling guilty. And without needing to finish the bottle. With Science on our side will shatter your past patterns and eliminate your excuses. Changing your relationship with alcohol is possible. I’m here to help you do it. Let’s start now. Well, hello, and welcome or welcome back to the alcohol minimalist podcast. I am your host Molly Watts coming to you from well, it’s kind of a dark Oregon still this morning. But it has been beautiful for the last two days, which was so welcome. Because we literally had seven straight days of rain, the kind of rain like there was never a break. And I was seriously getting really crazy with it. So I have appreciated a couple of sunny days, I have no idea what the forecast is going to look like today. I’m hoping there’s still some more sunshine in my life. But regardless, welcome to the podcast. A little housekeeping before we get started, I want to make sure you’re aware of two free resources free, completely free. The first is my ebook. It’s called alcohol truth is how much is safe. And this short ebook lays down some of the science behind alcohol and looks at the question that many people ask how much alcohol is safe for me to drink. And we look at it from the perspective of physical health, social health and financial health. And it’s free. So you just go to www dot Molly watts.com/resources. That’s Molly watts.com/resources. And it’s right there at the top of the page. There’s another free resource. And that is my alcohol minimalist Facebook group. There is always a link in the show notes so you can go there. But you can also just go to Facebook and searching groups for alcohol minimalist or change your drinking habits. And in the group I share motivation, tips and extra resources. Plus, it’s just a great group. It’s a great camaraderie and their support for people who are trying to work on changing their relationship with alcohol. Without shame without guilt. We’re not a sober society. So we’re not all about only alcohol free is the right way to go and, and shaming you if you drink at all. We definitely have a focus on creating that peaceful relationship with alcohol and sticking to low risk limits. But we’re meeting everybody where they’re at and starting there. And so I invite you to come take part of that group as well. Today’s episode is another in my alcohol and series. And it’s a timely discussion, I think because we’re seeing a surge here in the Omicron variant of COVID. Definitely in Oregon and the US and I think across the world. So it seems that this particular variant is more highly transmissible than even the Delta variant was but there’s also reports that the symptoms are less severe. So that’s great. And it sounds as though if your immune system is in decent shape, especially if you’ve been vaccinated or boosted, you might only feel like you have a cold or a mild flu. And because I’m participating in dry up this month taking a full 31 day break from alcohol, I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss alcohol and your immune system. So that’s what today’s podcast episode is about alcohol and your immune system. And I know that there are a lot of people new to the podcast right now people who have found it during dry weary and so before I dive into this topic, I want to restate some of the basic tenets of being an alcohol minimalist. First off this work is not designed to diagnose or treat alcohol addiction. And if you are concerned that you have a physical dependence on alcohol, I encourage you to seek professional help. Secondly, being an alcohol minimalist means we understand that the safest amount of alcohol to consume is zero. If you are not already drinking alcohol, there is no physical health benefit of adding alcohol to your life that outweighs the potential for negative consequences. So We get that all right, we understand and accept from a scientific standpoint that drinking alcohol has a very limited therapeutic effect, keeping blood alcohol content to a limit of point 05 5% or lower, which means for most women no more than one standard drink, and for men no more than two standard drinks. We also recognize that there are a lot of external circumstances that can influence how we respond to alcohol each and every time we drink. Like how much we weigh our age, how much sleep we’ve had, how much we’ve eaten, the temperature of our drinking environment. Being an alcohol minimalist really means we are committed to minimizing the negative aspects of alcohol, which means we stick to low risk limits, and we are mindful of circumstances. That might mean we need to choose to not drink at all, or drink less than low risk guidelines. Lastly, and most importantly, as alcohol minimalists, we are committed to creating a peaceful relationship with alcohol, whether that means sticking to low risk limits or being completely alcohol free. That is up to you to decide what is peaceful for you. I have no desire to over drink, I can take your leave alcohol, and I can enjoy a drink or two without worry for my physical, social or financial health. And I don’t worry about misusing alcohol, to buffer away negative emotions. You are completely capable of creating a peaceful relationship with alcohol too. And that is what this podcast is all about. All right now on to alcohol and your immune system. You’ve probably heard some of the grim statistics about the rise in alcohol sales that happened during the COVID 19 lockdown that was distressing in terms of what it said both about the state of mental health during the pandemic. But it was also really concerning because of the potential harm to people’s immune systems from over consuming alcohol. So what do we know about alcohol and its impact on the immune system? Well, number one, you’ve heard me talk about it on the podcast more than once. Alcohol disrupts your sleep cycles. And this information is from William Porter’s book alcohol explained which I will link in the show notes. And in the book, William explains. When we sleep we experience two alternating states of sleep. These states are called slow wave sleep and rapid eye movement sleep. slow wave sleep is the deep restful sleep. REM sleep however, is less restful and usually associated with dreaming. Although its function is unknown REM appears to be as essential to health as FWS sleep in tests with rats deprivation of REM sleep has led to death within a few weeks. Equally SW s sleep is essential as this is when the body usually restores itself. There is a lot we as human beings do not know about sleep. However, what is certainly the case is that the human body needs certain cycles of sleep. And those that occur naturally are those that are most beneficial for us interfere with these, and we cause ourselves serious problems. If we allow these cycles of sleep to accord naturally, the result will be that we wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the day. In a natural cycle of sleep, you will have six or seven cycles of REM sleep. However, when you drink alcohol, you will typically only have two. The reason for this is that when we drink we go into a very deep sleep for the first five hours or so. Now you would be forgiven for thinking that this is a good thing, as we would usually associate a deep sleep with an invigorating and refreshing sleep. But that is not the case. The initial five hours or so of drinking sleep do not have enough REM sleep. The other problem is that after the initial five hours or so of deep sleep, the deep sleep ends and the rest of our sleep is very fragmented. There are a whole host of problems that stem from being sleep deprived. And if you want to go more in depth I talked about that quite a bit in episode number eight teen alcohol and sleep with sleep expert Dr. James Moss, which I will also link in the show notes as well. The thing is even if you’re not chronically sleep deprived, studies show that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus, such as a common cold. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover. If you do get sick during sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, which some of which help promote sleep. And certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation or when you’re under stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines. In addition, infection fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don’t get enough sleep. So your body needs sleep to fight infectious disease. So we’ve just talked about how alcohol disrupts sleep and how you need sleep to benefit your immune system. Here’s the thing, that’s not the only thing that gets impacted by alcohol in terms of our immune system sleeps. Sleep loss not only plays a role in whether we come down with a cold or flu, it also influences how we fight illnesses once we come down with them. For example, our bodies fight infection with fevers. One of the things that happens when we sleep is that we get a better fever response. That is why fevers tend to rise at night. But if we are not sleeping, our fever reaction is not primed. So we may not be waging war on infection as best we can. alcohols impact on your sleep is definitely dose dependent, and it’s also time dependent. To minimize the impact, you’ll want to stick to wandering for less. And you’ll want to have your last alcoholic drink no later than four hours before you go to bed. All right, so you can weaken your immune system because of disrupting your sleep. But again, that’s not the only way that drinking alcohol can impact your immune system. Alcohol alters the makeup of your gut microbiome, which is home to trillions of micro organisms performing several crucial roles for your health, and it affects the microorganisms ability to support your immune system. The GI system is typically the first point of contact for alcohol as it passes through the body, and is it is where alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream. One of the most significant immediate effects of alcohol is that it affects the structure and integrity of the GI tract. For example, alcohol alters the number and relative abundances of microbes in the gut by microbiome. These organisms affect the maturation and function of the immune system. Alcohol disrupts communication between these organisms, and the intestinal immune system. It also damages epithelial cells, T cells, and neutrophils in the GI system, and it disrupts the gut barrier function and facilitating leakage of microbes into the circulation. So it clearly disrupts gut function, which again, disrupts our immune system. In addition to the gut, chronic heavy alcohol use, can weaken lung immune responses, and it increases the risk of developing respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome. And I just want to make a note here that heavy alcohol use according to the NI A is consuming more than seven standard drinks in a week, or more than three standard drinks in any one day for women. And more than 14 standard drinks in a week, or more than four standard drinks in any one day for a man. I want you to really hear me on this because I know for me, I spent years, decades actually drinking at heavy alcohol use levels, and 100% I was putting my immune system at high risk. And while it’s never my intent to scare people into habit change, I will just say that changing your drinking habits and consistently meeting low risk limits could be a very important boost to your immune system in the face of COVID-19, which I think is going to be around for quite some time. In addition to the gut and the respiratory systems, alcohol disturbs the lymph system to and it interferes with the body’s lymphoid tissues. As you might know, the lymph system is responsible for protecting the body from disease and ridding your body of any toxins. According to live science. The lymph system works by carrying white blood cells throughout the body to fight any toxic substances like alcohol and drinking alcohol disrupts the lymph system. Lastly, but certainly not least, when you drink alcohol, your body’s primary focus is on processing the alcohol, which by the way is a very hefty task for the body. Unfortunately, this means that it does not have the energy or the resources To focus on fighting anything else, like illnesses. So if you’re already sick, it’s possible your body could have worse trouble fighting the illness or you could suffer for longer if you’re drinking. together all of these consequences of drinking impede the functions and the health of the immune system. The negative consequences of alcohol on your immune system aren’t limited either to long term heavy use, the NIA a warns that a single episode of drinking can suppress the immune system for up to 24 hours. So one episode of excessive drinking. And it’s also linked to binge so if you want to say a binge is anything more than three drinks for a woman and four drinks for a man that’s going to suppress your immune system for 24 hours. Here’s the good news. While there is no 100% safe level of drinking other than zero for your immune system, there also hasn’t been a lot of scientific study that show there will there hasn’t been any that shows a negative effects on the immune system when you stick to low risk limits. And if you are like me and participating in dry you were you right now there is big benefit to your immune system, which will likely rebound quickly from the suppression that alcohol causes. These are the things that you can experience from taking an extended break from alcohol, you will likely not succumb to every cold virus that you come in contact with and the illnesses that you do encounter, you’ll help you recover from pasture. So if you are feeling like you’re coming down with something, you should definitely refrain from drinking too much alcohol leaves you dehydrated and it will definitely make symptoms like congestion worse. And alcohol. As we’ve discussed throughout this podcast episode, dampens puts a damper on your immune system. And, of course, lastly, it could very much mix badly with any type of cold medications you’re taking. So you always want to pay attention to that. If you aren’t feeling like you’re coming down with something just simply do not drink alcohol. So, lots of great science here today and I hope you take the information that you hear on the show and use it to shape your own peaceful relationship with alcohol. For me learning the science of alcohol and the facts about what low risk drinking really means. helped fuel my desire to be an alcohol minimalist and really helped me break. What I long believed was an unbreakable daily drinking habit. My hope is that it will help you do the same. And until next time, choose peace my friends. Thank you for listening to the alcohol minimalist podcast. This podcast is dedicated to helping you change your drinking habits and to create a peaceful relationship with alcohol. Use something you learned in today’s episode and apply it to your life this week. Transformation is possible you have the power to change your relationship with alcohol now, for more information, please visit me at www dot Molly watts.com