Regularly, positive stories are published about alcohol’s effect on your body. Consuming limited amounts of alcohol has shown to reduce occurrences of heart disease, stroke, and gallstones. A team from the Oregon Health & Science University found alcohol could bolster the immune system and its responsiveness.
However, for individuals who have an autoimmune disorder, alcohol consumption can exacerbate the disorder’s symptoms. Further, the consumption of beer or wine may hide underlying health issues. In some instances, individuals felt worse after quitting alcohol; one sign the immune system had been impacted by alcohol.
What are Autoimmune Disorders?
The immune system is a defense system developed by organisms to protect themselves from disease. To work, the system first must be able to identify a variety of threats, known as pathogens. Pathogens include viruses and parasites.
An effective immune system can determine the difference between harmful pathogens from a host’s own healthy tissue. Once dangerous threats are identified, they are “marked” so the body’s white blood cells can attack and eliminate them.
Autoimmune disorders cannot identify healthy tissue from pathogens. The result is a defense system that attacks and damages the organism’s own healthy cells. Autoimmune disorders include:
- Type 1 diabetes
- Graves’ disease
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Multiple sclerosis
- Myasthenia Gravis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Guillain-Barre Syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy
The medical community does not know exactly what causes autoimmune disorders. It is believed one or more factors may play a role in who is struck by a disorder, including diet, genetics, infections, and chemical exposure.
Alcohol and Autoimmune Disorders
The hormone estrogen is known to trigger a body’s immune system. Alcohol, including wine, beer, and liquor, has plant-based estrogen as a part of the liquid chemical makeup. Individuals with an autoimmune disorder may experience flare-ups or reactions after drinking even small amounts of alcohol.
For individuals who drink heavily or abuse alcohol, the liver becomes unable to process toxins effectively. The result can be an increased level of immunoglobulins, antibodies that are supposed to mark harmful pathogens. This is usually a sign of an autoimmune response. Chronic alcoholism leads to antibodies identifying healthy cells as threats that cause white blood cells to destroy the wrong tissue.
Over time, alcohol abuse further cripples the body’s ability to protect itself. As the immune system’s functionality is continually interrupted, an individual’s white blood cell count may begin to decrease. White blood cells, the body’s search and destroy mechanism for ridding the body of harmful pathogens, start to become overwhelmed by unhealthy pathogens. Illness and disease become more difficult to stave off, and the body becomes sicker more quickly, more often, and for much longer than if the immune system is operating correctly.
Autoimmune Disorder Symptoms
Alcohol can trigger autoimmune responses or result in an autoimmune disease if the substance is abused. There are a few general symptoms which may indicate an autoimmune disorder:
- Hair loss
- Skin rashes
- Lack of focus
- Achy muscles
- Low-grade fevers
- Numbness/tingling in hands or feet
Specific disorders have their individual symptoms. For example, type 1 diabetes can cause extreme thirst, fatigue, and weight loss, while inflammatory bowel disease has associated stomach pain, diarrhea, and bloating. Symptoms may come and go as many autoimmune diseases may go into remission when there is a lack of a trigger.
Alcohol’s effect on your body can have lifelong consequences. Consuming alcohol when an autoimmune disorder is present increases the risk of severe health issues. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol or drug abuse, contact your local hospital or speak with one of our professionals. The staff at Ocean Hills Recovery will work alongside you to find the right care and treatment plans that are best for you.
About the author:
Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.
Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.
Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.