Alcohol, host defence and society


Impaired health caused by alcohol abuse has been known throughout recorded history. Over the past century, alcohol abuse has been clearly linked to host susceptibility to infectious disease, particularly bacterial pneumonia. Recently, both acute and chronic alcohol intake have been shown to result in specific defects in innate and adaptive immunity; these could, in principle, be subjected to specific modulation to overcome the immunosuppressive effects of the most commonly abused substance in the Western world.

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Figure 1: Biphasic effect of alcohol consumption on mortality.
Figure 2: Overview of alcohol abuse and the immune system.


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Correspondence to Jay K. Kolls.

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(ARDS). This disease is characterized by the acute onset of hypoxaemia, bilateral infiltrates on chest X-rays and no evidence of left ventricular heart failure. It can be precipitated by sepsis, pneumonia, surgery and/or trauma.


A spectrum of entities including steatohepatitis, or lipid accumulation in the liver associated with ethanol abuse, alcoholic hepatitis, which is an acute inflammatory response in the liver associated with ethanol abuse, and cirrhosis.


Transfer of bacteria or bacterial products from the lumen of the gastrointestinal tract to mesenteric lymph nodes and into the portal circulation.


Micro- or macronodular fibrosis in the liver, which can result from chronic alcohol abuse.

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