Alcohol and Inflammation

Alcohol is often a topic which is treated with a flippant, carefree attitude. The majority of legal adults have had an alcoholic drink. Many of those have been drunk and some are even drunk regularly.

However, it is doubtful that the preponderance of the people drinking alcohol have ever considered its impact on inflammation. Even those who suffer from medical conditions caused by or exacerbated by inflammation do not always consider the implication alcohol consumption has on their bodies.

What relationship, if any, does alcohol have to inflammation? Can alcohol cause inflammation or could it help prevent, treat, and even cure inflammation? How does consumption of alcohol affect those already suffering from inflammation and the conditions it causes or indicates?

It is time to put down the Chardonnay and take a close look at the answers to these questions.


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Inflammation is the body’s effort to defend itself against attackers like viruses and bacteria. It also helps the body heal itself and repair damaged tissue after a trauma or injury. It is designed to help your body heal by attracting white blood cells to these areas.

However, it also has a part in many chronic diseases. Especially seen when the acute inflammation that is meant to heal continues for too long. It then becomes chronic and can lead to many long term diseases. The list of these conditions includes Asthma, Fibromyalgia, Alzheimer’s, Ulcerative colitis (often simply referred to as UC), Rheumatoid and other forms of arthritis, Chronic sinusitis, and Crohn’s disease.

One of the main signs of inflammation is swollen tissues which are often red and warm to the touch. This most recognizably includes the joints and in chronic conditions is regularly accompanied by joint pain, stiffness, and loss of joint function. However, you don’t need to suffer from joint pain or stiffness any longer. Many are turning to tart cherries to stop joint pain and stiffness.

Cause and Effect

The data which science and modern medicine have compiled regarding the ties between alcohol and inflammation is, at times, contradictory. However, no matter what else is said, all indicators are that alcohol is best used in moderation.

A few studies have shown, for example, that enjoying a single alcoholic beverage with some regularity may reduce the risk of developing Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).

According to Dr. Karen Costenbader, a rheumatologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, “Moderate alcohol consumption reduces the biomarkers of inflammation.” This reduction in acute inflammation has thus been tied to the reduced risk for development of the chronic condition of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Dr. Costenbader continues to say that for women, the population most often affected by RA, drinking less than a glass of wine or beer each day reduces the risk of RA.

With excessive drinking, the anti-inflammatory effects of alcohol can actually harm the body. Studies have shown that drinking a lot on just one occasion can compromise the immune system by “slowing the body’s ability to produce cytokines that ward off infections by causing inflammations.” Thus, the reduction of inflammation by alcohol actually significantly reduces your body’s ability to defend itself against infection. Sometimes for as long as a full day after getting drunk.

So, while alcohol in small doses can serve to prevent acute inflammation, the kind that heals, this benefit is reversed by heavy alcohol consumption. It then seems to accelerate the conversion of inflammation from healing to destructive.

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Effect on Chronic Inflammation Conditions

Once inflammation has become chronic, drinking alcohol is proven to have more negatives than positives. The continued suppression of healthy inflammation by alcohol expounds upon the disease inducing inflammation which causes pain and lowered overall health. Susceptibility to further infection is one reason. The continued inability to heal from viruses, bacteria, and other foreign invaders perpetuates the cycle of infection.

In addition, many of the medications prescribed to relieve the symptoms of a chronic inflammation disorder such as arthritis are rendered ineffective by the effects of alcohol. Even worse, medicines such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) actually create a greater risk for stomach bleeding and ulcers when combined with alcohol. Taken with methotrexate or acetaminophen, alcohol can make the liver more susceptible to permanent damage.

Further, heavy or chronic use of alcohol impairs the brain’s ability to regulate inflammation and encourages systemic inflammation to occur. This sustained inflammation leads to tissue damage and chronic conditions.

The minor anti-inflammatory benefits provided through occasional, moderate use of alcohol can hold off the onset of some chronic inflammation conditions. However, once the consumption of alcohol extends beyond the moderate or occasional it no longer provides any benefit to inflammation and may actually cause further damage.

Understanding alcohol’s effect on inflammation can help drinkers to make informed decisions about where a night of drinking is worth the affects it may have on your body.

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