Binge Drinking Upsets Immune System of Young Adults, Says Study

Binge drinking is defined as consuming enough alcohol to meet or exceed the legal blood alcohol limit for driving. Aside from yielding regrettable choices from the night before, binge drinking also causes the body's immune system to drop, making it more susceptible to infections.

According to a study published in the journal Alcohol, the body's immune system revved up as intoxication peaked after about four to five shots of vodka but significantly dropped to levels lower than when a subject was sober after two and then five hours.

When the immune system was revved up, it produced higher numbers of white blood cells in the body called natural killer cells, monocytes and leukocytes. Cytokines, a protein, was also in abundance when the immune system was elevated.

At the two- and five-hour points after peak intoxication, fewer natural killer cells and monocytes were detected, as well as the presence of various types of cytokines that work to signal the body's immune system to stop working actively.

As it is, binge drinking increases the likelihood of burns, falls, car accidents, gunshot wounds and other traumatic injuries but add the immune system component, and this points to longer-lasting effects from the act.

Previous studies have showed that binge drinking hastens blood loss, delays wound healing and increases the likelihood of catching pneumonia but those on a night out don't usually concern themselves with these. Most of the time, they'd be on the watch out for crazy behavior, thinking that all alcohol does is lower inhibitions.

Led by Majid Afshar, M.D., MSCR, the study involved seven men and eight women with a median age of 27 years old. All subjects voluntarily drank shots of vodka to meet the requirements of binge drinking, meaning every participant downed about four or five shots.

Researchers then took samples of the subjects' blood after peak intoxication, first after 20 minutes, then two hours and then five hours. The study used these times because these are the usual points after intoxication that patients arrive in emergency rooms for treatment.

A critical care physician, pulmonologist and epidemiologist, Afshar is planning on conducting a follow-up study on patients in the burn unit, comparing alcohol blood levels, measuring markers for the immune system and noting the effects of decreased immune system activity in the setting.

Consuming four or five drinks within two hours usually constitutes binge drinking, and one out of every six adults in the U.S. engages in the act around four times in a month. Binge drinking, however, is most common in young adults between 18 and 34 years old.

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