Alcohol and Your Immune System: How to Drink Safely This Holiday Season
Holiday cheer, traveling, traffic… During the holiday season, there is so much happening, and one of the most obvious can have a massive negative impact on our health.
That includes alcohol and illness.
Whether you’re imbibing in “adult beverages” to let go, celebrate and have fun, or get through the stress of the holidays, we’re not here to judge!
We are here to educate you about the effects of alcohol on your immune system this holiday season, and ways to stay safe and healthy with or without alcoholic beverages.
How Alcohol Affects Your Immune System
Before you grab that drink, it’s crucial to consider how it could affect your body. Indulging once in a while is fine, but limiting alcohol is more important for your health during the winter than any other time of year.
Why? According to Johns Hopkins, “Colds, flus and other respiratory illnesses are more common in colder months. People are indoors more often, allowing viruses to pass more easily from one person to another. And the cold, dry air may weaken resistance.”
One of the primary ways alcohol handicaps your immune system is by damaging cells and organisms in your immune system, which makes you an easier target for harmful viruses and bacteria that cause illness.
Here are some specific ways alcohol may threaten your immunity:
- Alcohol kills beneficial microbiota
- Alcohol opens the tight junctions of the gut lining and causes leaky gut
- Alcohol can lead to liver disease and even fatal liver failure in prolonged alcohol drinkers
- Alcohol disrupts sleep which is critical for a hardy immune system
- Alcohol is dehydrating
Damages Lung Organelles
Your lungs are lined with fine, hair-like organelles (a structure with a specific purpose within a cell) called cilia. Cilia help to move debris out of your lungs while keeping the good stuff in. However, alcohol damages these organelles. This makes it significantly easier for viruses to infiltrate the body, as they don’t have to face as much of a battle for entry.
Kills Healthy Gut Bacteria
Alcohol also destroys beneficial gut microbes. As you know, the microbes in our gut are essential to a robust immune system to minimize the risk of infections. As these bacteria are destroyed, your chances for illness and infection increase significantly.
IMPORTANT: Alcohol disrupts the tight junctions of the colon and causes a leaky gut. In a recent study Lactobacillus plantarum was found to prevent disruption of the tight junctions of the gut lining. Toxins produced by the pathogenic gut bacteria, called endotoxins, damage the liver, but L. plantarum prevents this liver damage.
Sleep is critically important to allow your body time to fight illness unimpeded, as well as for its refreshing and regenerating effect. If you’ve ever had a drink and then had a nice, long nap afterward, that’s because alcohol is a sedative. Its immediate effect is the opposite of a stimulant like caffeine; instead, it encourages your body to slow down and relax.
While this sounds beneficial, alcohol is actually linked to poor sleep duration and quality. So, while you may be able to have that nap, you may sleep poorly or for a short amount of time. Even a low amount of alcohol can damage your sleep quality.
How to Protect Your Immune System Against Holiday Alcohol Consumption
Hopefully, you now understand how alcohol consumption hinders your goal of staying well through the winter months. The first and most obvious suggestion–which I’m sure you’ve already guessed–is to simply not drink. However, what else can I do to protect my body if I decide to drink?
We highly recommend that you:
- Try drinking an alcohol-free “mocktail”
- If you make a drink with alcohol, mix it with a few ounces of one of our probiotic liquids to counter the effects of alcohol (download our FREE 12 Days of Ferment eBook for several recipes!)
- Stay hydrated because alcohol is dehydrating
- Maintain a nutritious diet—at least 80% of the time—and supplement it as needed
- Get some exercise to burn off the alcohol
- Ensure quality sleep with sleep hygiene basics
- Prioritize your mental health and self-care (holidays can be stressful, too!)
Focusing on living a healthy lifestyle overall will make it easier to care for your and your loved ones’ health during the holiday season. The basics, like drinking water, getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating healthy foods, are all simple ways to keep yourself and your immune system prepared and protected.
Ultimately, the purpose of this article isn’t to force you to stay stone sober over the holidays. The real purpose is to get you to consider how alcohol consumption may affect your health and give you ideas to boost your immunity.
The next time you have a drink this season, ask yourself some questions first:
- Do the pros of having this drink outweigh the cons?
- How many drinks have I had? Will this next one make a considerable difference in how I feel, whether better or worse?
- Is my immune system already compromised?
- Would I prefer to drink something else instead?
So long as you indulge mindfully and with intention, and so long as you continue to live a healthy lifestyle that bolsters your immune system, you’ll be much more likely to have a happy and healthy holiday season.
If you do imbibe, we highly encourage you to read that study about the benefits of Lactobacillus plantarum in protecting your liver. Add Lactobacillus plantarum supplements, or delicious probiotic liquids or cultured veggies to your diet to support your gut health with this beneficial bacteria.