Binge Drinking Disrupts Immune System | News | Loyola Medicine
Friday, December 26, 2014

Binge drinking disrupts immune system in young adults, Loyola researcher finds

MAYWOOD, Ill. (Dec. 26, 2014) – Binge drinking in young, healthy adults significantly disrupts the immune system, according to a study led by a researcher now at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

Depending on their weight, study participants drank four or five shots of vodka. Twenty minutes after reaching peak intoxication, their immune systems revved up. But when measured again, at two hours and five hours after peak intoxication, their immune systems had become less active than when sober.

The study by Majid Afshar, MD, MSCR, and colleagues is published online ahead of print in Alcohol, an international, peer-reviewed journal.

Binge drinking increases the risk of falls, burns, gunshot wounds, car accidents and other traumatic injuries. One-third of trauma patients have alcohol in their systems.

In addition to increasing the risk of traumatic injuries, binge drinking impairs the body’s ability to recover from such injuries. Previous studies have found, for example, that binge drinking delays wound healing, increases blood loss and makes patients more prone to pneumonia and infections from catheters. Binge drinkers also are more likely to die from traumatic injuries. The study led by Dr. Afshar illustrates another potentially harmful effect of binge drinking.

Drinkers generally understand how binge drinking alters behavior. “But there is less awareness of alcohol’s harmful effects in other areas, such as the immune system,” said Elizabeth Kovacs, PhD, a co-author of the study and director of Loyola’s Alcohol Research Program.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as drinking enough to reach or exceed a blood alcohol content of .08, the legal limit for driving. This typically occurs after four drinks for women or five drinks for men, consumed in two hours. One in six U.S. adults binge drinks about four times a month, and binge drinking is more common in young adults aged 18 to 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Afshar led the study while at the University of Maryland, where he completed a fellowship before joining Loyola. The study included eight women and seven men with a median age of 27. Each volunteer drank enough shots of vodka – generally four or five – to meet the definition of binge drinking. (A 1.5 oz. shot of vodka is the alcohol equivalent of a five-ounce glass of wine or 12-ounce can of beer.) Dr. Afshar and colleagues took blood samples at 20 minutes, two hours and five hours after peak intoxication because these are times when intoxicated patients typically arrive at trauma centers for treatment of alcohol-related injuries.

The blood samples showed that 20 minutes after peak intoxication, there was increased immune system activity. There were higher levels of three types of white blood cells that are key components of the immune system: leukocytes, monocytes and natural killer cells. There also were increased levels of proteins called cytokines that signal the immune system to ramp up.

Two hours and five hours after peak intoxication, researchers found the opposite effect: fewer circulating monocytes and natural killer cells and higher levels of different types of cytokines that signal the immune system to become less active.

Dr. Afshar is planning a follow-up study of burn unit patients. He will compare patients who had alcohol in their system when they arrived with patients who were alcohol-free. He will measure immune system markers from each group, and compare their outcomes, including lung injury, organ failure and death.

Dr. Afshar is a pulmonologist, critical care physician and epidemiologist. He is an assistant professor in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine and in the Department of Public Health Sciences of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

Loyola’s nationally recognized Alcohol Research Program investigates such issues as how heavy drinking hinders the body's ability to recover from burns and trauma, how alcohol abuse damages bones, and whether teen binge drinking can increase the risk of mood disorders later in life.

Dr. Afshar’s study is titled “Acute immunomodulatory effects of binge alcohol ingestion.” In addition to Drs. Afshar and Kovacs, co-authors are Stephanie Richards; Dean Mann, MD; Alan Cross, MD; Gordon Smith, MPH; Giora Netzer, MD; and Jeffrey Hasday, MD, all of the University of Maryland.

The study was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and University of Maryland.

About Loyola Medicine and Trinity Health

Loyola Medicine, a member of Trinity Health, is a quaternary care system based in the western suburbs of Chicago that includes Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC), Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, MacNeal Hospital and convenient locations offering primary and specialty care services from 1,877 physicians throughout Cook, Will and DuPage counties. LUMC is a 547-licensed-bed hospital in Maywood that includes the William G. and Mary A. Ryan Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, a Level 1 trauma center, Illinois's largest burn center, a certified comprehensive stroke center and a children’s hospital. Having delivered compassionate care for over 50 years, Loyola also trains the next generation of caregivers through its teaching affiliation with Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine and Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. Gottlieb is a 247-licensed-bed community hospital in Melrose Park with 150 physician offices, an adult day care program, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park. MacNeal Hospital is a 374-bed teaching hospital in Berwyn with advanced inpatient and outpatient medical, surgical and psychiatric services, advanced diagnostics and treatments. MacNeal has a 12-bed acute rehabilitation unit, a 25-bed inpatient skilled nursing facility, and a 68-bed behavioral health program and community clinics. MacNeal has provided quality, patient-centered care to the near west suburbs since 1919.

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic healthcare systems in the nation, serving diverse communities that include more than 30 million people across 22 states. Trinity Health includes 94 hospitals, as well as 109 continuing care locations that include PACE programs, senior living facilities and home care and hospice services. Its continuing care programs provide nearly 2.5 million visits annually. Based in Livonia, Mich., and with annual operating revenues of $18.3 billion and assets of $26.2 billion, the organization returns $1.1 billion to its communities annually in the form of charity care and other community benefit programs. Trinity employs about 133,000 colleagues, including 7,800 employed physicians and clinicians. Committed to those who are poor and underserved in its communities, Trinity is known for its focus on the country's aging population. As a single, unified ministry, the organization is the innovator of Senior Emergency Departments, the largest not-for-profit provider of home health care services—ranked by number of visits—in the nation, as well as the nation’s leading provider of PACE (Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly) based on the number of available programs.