Americans need to exercise restraint on their drinking habits owing to the steep rise in alcohol-related mishaps in the country. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 30,000 people died due to alcohol-related causes in 2014 alone.
The myth that moderate drinking habit has significant health benefits has also been busted and the adverse impacts of alcohol on both young and old are constantly being highlighted by health care providers. But when it comes to older people, alcohol can make their weaker bodies more susceptible to its harmful effects.
A recent study by the University of Colorado in Denver indicated that drinking results in an immunosuppressive impact in the elderly people, which, in turn, depletes their physical capacity to combat any kind of infection.
In the study, titled “Inflamm-Aging: Alcohol Makes It Even Worse,” co-author Dr. Brenda J. Curtis, research assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver, said, “Our laboratory has been studying inflammatory and immune responses in the aged for well over a decade. We know that even healthy elderly individuals have an elevated basal inflammatory state, known as ‘inflamm-aging.’ Advanced age alone is a risk factor for a poor prognosis after injury or infection. Adding alcohol to the fragile immune milieu of the aged reduces their ability to fight infections.”
In the study, presented at the 39th Annual Research Society on Alcoholism Scientific Meeting in New Orleans from June 25-29, 2016, the researchers stressed that drinking can pose significant problems for older people, especially to those who use prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications for hypertension and diabetes. Also, the fact that most of these medications are metabolized in the liver not only puts them at an increased risk, but also aggravates the chances of developing pneumonia.
The researchers suggested that uncontrolled drinking habits may aggravate inflammation levels in the body by bringing about changes in the microbiome. They attributed the phenomenon to leakage of bacterial content into the underlying tissue due to the effect of alcohol, leading to inflammation. The scientists used mice to evaluate the effect of both aging and alcohol on the body’s immune system and the nature and extent of inflammation and to assess if the inherent immune response to infection is affected due to the intoxicating effects of alcohol.
The scientists introduced ethanol in both young and aged mice after which they were infected with intratracheal bacteria. The older mice that were given ethanol before they encountered lung infection manifested worse pulmonary pathology, including enlarged cellularity and alveolar wall thickening, as compared with younger mice. Their inflammatory loci in the lungs were also found to be expanded.
In the next step, the scientists separated alveolar macrophage from the lungs of both young and aged mice. The cells were cultured in a culture dish with ethanol for three hours, along with or without intraperitoneal lipopolysaccharide (LPS) stimulation for another 18 hours.
The results showed a reduction in pulmonary response to infection due to the effect of ethanol intoxication in aged mice, which the scientists suggest could be due to moderation of macrophage activation and signaling. The effect of alcohol was found to be more powerful in the aged mice as compared to their younger counterparts. The aged mice also showed reduced lung function and cough strength, which further aggravated their risk of developing pneumonia. The scientists were of the opinion that the elderly who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, hypertension, or osteoporosis may suffer increased adverse effects due to alcohol abuse.
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