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Drinking alcohol might increase your risk of getting COVID-19

"Janna McNair" (2020-08-24)

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Health experts warn that drinking alcohol may put you more at risk for COVID-19.

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For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Not to be a buzzkill, but if you're drinking a lot these days, listen up. Alcohol, especially frequent and excessive drinking, can present some serious risks to your health, especially when it comes to COVID-19, your immune system and overall risk for developing serious complications from the virus.

While summer is usually a season of beach vacations, pool parties and rooftop hangs, this summer is not normal, to say the least. With COVID-19 numbers continuing to climb across the country, now is not the time to let your guard down when it comes to your health and immune system. 

While there's nothing wrong with enjoying the occasional drink, if you are doing more than that, health authorities like the WHO are warning people (PDF) about the potential risks drinking alcohol can have on your health, especially when it comes to the coronavirus. 

To gain clarity around exactly how alcohol can harm your immune system, how much it takes to have the effect, and what it has to do with COVID-19, I tapped two medical experts: Dr. Edo Paz, medical director at K Health; and Dr. Tom Moorcroft, 중년 불감증 효과 founder of Origins of Health.

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Alcohol weakens the immune system

Although there are no specific studies on how alcohol can impact your chances for COVID-19 specifically, there is plenty of research about alcohol's effect on your immune system, which is key to keeping you healthy and protecting you from illness. "We do know that alcohol can impact multiple organ systems in the body, including the immune system," Paz says. "A weakened immune system can make you more susceptible to contracting any contagious illness, including COVID-19."

According to the WHO, alcohol consumption weakens your immune system defenses in any amount, but that's especially true if you are a heavy drinker. According to Moorcroft, this happens in a few key ways. 

First, if you have alcohol in your system at the time you come into contact with a virus, he says your body's chances of fighting that off are much lower. "Alcohol in the body at the time of exposure to a pathogen, such as SARS-CoV-2, can impair the body's immediate immune response, making it easier for the pathogen to take hold and lead to an infection," Moorcroft explains.

Alcohol can also alter your gut bacteria or your gut microbiome, which affects your immune system. "Short and long term use of alcohol can impair immune function because it leads to changes in the microbiome -- the microorganisms in the intestines that aid in normal gut function," Moorcroft says. "Changes in the microbiome as a result of alcohol use can also lead to damage of cells of the gut wall that can lead to leakage of microbes in the bloodstream, triggering inflammation."