COVID-19: The Importance of Alcohol Moderation | Loyola Medicine
Thursday, April 2, 2020

Loyola Medicine Doctor Urges Alcohol Moderation During Pandemic to Maintain a Healthy Immune System

Majid Afshar, MD, has done extensive research on the effects of alcohol on immunity and respiratory health

image of someone drinking alcohol

MAYWOOD—While it may be tempting to drink more while quarantined at home, a Loyola Medicine doctor is urging moderation, as too much alcohol can diminish the body’s ability to fight off infections like COVID-19.

Majid Afshar, MD, a pulmonologist and critical care specialist and assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, has studied the effects of alcohol on the body’s immune system, as well as its impact on breathing and lung health. He warns that excessive alcohol use (at least four or five drinks over a few hours) can alter our cytokine response, or signaling proteins, which regulate the body’s immune response.

One of Dr. Afshar’s published studies, “Acute immunomodulatory effects of binge alcohol ingestion,” found that “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.” These fluctuations in inflammation can affect the hormone levels, as well as the body’s ability to fight and heal from disease.

As little as two drinks a day for women and three drinks per day for men begins to “dysregulate our immune system. Alcohol does affect our frontline of defense, altering homeostasis (the body’s equilibrium) that is ideal for fighting infections like COVID-19,” says Dr. Afshar.

“We are in the midst of a pandemic,” says Dr. Afshar. “Those of us who do get sick are going to have to rely on our immune system to get through this. This is especially important for our most vulnerable populations”—the elderly, as well as anyone with diabetes, or heart, lung, and immune diseases and disorders.

Alcohol can also increase the number and severity of respiratory infections. The COVID-19 virus can lead to respiratory complications, especially in individuals with an alcohol use disorder. 

“High levels or unhealthy levels of alcohol consumption are not helpful for our immune system and impairs our ability to fight off infections,” said Dr. Afshar. 

“I wouldn’t say stop drinking altogether. But minimize and drink in moderation. Let’s do everything we can to stay healthy and protect ourselves.

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.