A new study finds that when young people binge drink alcohol, it disrupts their immune system — and that disruption happens more quickly than drinkers might think.
Published in December in Alcohol, the study found that within just two hours of young, healthy adults drinking up to five shots of vodka, their immune systems were less active than when sober. The findings are particularly relevant as binge drinking increases the risk of a number of injuries that might land young people in the emergency room, where physicians could benefit from knowing that a patient’s immune system may be impaired due to too much alcohol.
Blood alcohol is present in a third of trauma patients and has been associated with organ dysfunction. In both human studies and in animal models, it is clear that alcohol intoxication exerts immunomodulatory effects several hours to days after exposure, when blood alcohol is no longer detectable. The early immunomodulatory effects of alcohol while blood alcohol is still elevated are not well understood.
Human volunteers achieved binge alcohol intoxication after high-dose alcohol consumption. Blood was collected for analysis prior to alcohol ingestion, and 20 min, 2 h, and 5 h after alcohol ingestion. Flow cytometry was performed on isolated peripheral blood mononuclear cells, and cytokine generation in whole blood was measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) after 24-h stimulation with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and phytohemagglutinin-M (PHA) stimulation.
An early pro-inflammatory state was evident at 20 min when blood alcohol levels were ∼130 mg/dL, which was characterized by an increase in total circulating leukocytes, monocytes, and natural killer cells. During this time, a transient increase in LPS-induced tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α levels and enhanced LPS sensitivity occurred. At 2 and 5 h post-alcohol binge, an anti-inflammatory state was shown with reduced numbers of circulating monocytes and natural killer cells, attenuated LPS-induced interleukin (IL)-1β levels, and a trend toward increased interleukin (IL)-10 levels.
A single episode of binge alcohol intoxication exerted effects on the immune system that caused an early and transient pro-inflammatory state followed by an anti-inflammatory state.