Some experts say to avoid heavy drinking before getting the COVID-19 vaccine, but you don't have to cut out alcohol completely

Heavy drinking weakens your immune system and is generally bad for your health. Matthew Horwood/Getty Images
  • Experts in the UK and Russia have warned against drinking before and after getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

  • While Russia's two-month ban might be too strict, staying sober will keep your immune system functioning in full force.

  • Heavy drinking adversely affects your health in a number of ways, including weakening your immune cells.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

From the UK to Russia, scientists are expressing concern about how alcohol consumption may affect people's immune responses to the COVID-19 vaccine.

The consensus is that alcohol does suppress the immune system. But experts' guidance on whether to avoid booze before and after getting vaccinated - and for how long - have varied.

The strictest recommendation came out of Russia last month, when health official Anna Popova told citizens they should not drink alcohol for nearly two months around the time of their shots. Both Russian and American experts said this warning was too harsh and could even decrease vaccine compliance.

In the UK, the advice was more mild. University of Manchester professor Sheena Cruickshank told Metro UK it would be wise to avoid drinking the day before and shortly after getting the vaccine to "have your immune system working tip-top."

"There's no evidence that, if you have one beer or a glass of wine a couple days after you get your vaccine, that's going to interfere with your immune response or protection following the vaccine," William Moss, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins University, told Insider.

"When that point is stated in such an extreme way, I think it's actually damaging to public health," he added.

But there's an important difference between one glass of wine and a whole bottle. Heavy drinkers have been found to have a multitude of health problems, and a weakened immune system is one of them.

Frequent or excessive drinking can interfere with your immune function

Three glasses of Prosecco was enough to decrease immune function in a BBC report titled "The Truth About… Boosting Your Immune System," which aired this week. In the episode, Dr. Ronx Ikharia found just three drinks can lower levels of lymphocytes, or white blood cells, that fight infection, by up to 50 percent.

Vaccine efficacy is contingent on your immune system learning to respond to a model intruder, so you don't want it operating at half-capacity when you introduce it to the COVID-19 vaccine. What's more, having a fully functioning immune system is important for staying healthy during the pandemic on any given day.

Studies have found that drinking alcohol also alters the makeup of your gut microbiome, potentially causing damage to the immune cells that line the intestines. More research shows binge drinking depletes the infection-fighting abilities of certain white blood cells in the hours after intoxication, so a wild night before or after getting the vaccine is not a smart choice.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines binge drinking as four or more drinks on one occasion for women and five or more for men. Heavy drinking is quantified as eight or more drinks a week for women and 15 or more for men.

Too much alcohol can also cause heart problems, liver disease, and more

While cracking open a cold one every now and then won't hurt you, chronic and excessive alcohol use can have several adverse health effects beyond immune function.

If you're drinking more than a couple alcoholic beverages every day, your heart rate and blood pressure will rise with time. The more you drink, the higher your heart rate will get, increasing your risk of stroke and heart failure.

Heavy drinkers are one and a half times more likely than non-drinkers to experience a stroke, according to a 2017 review by the National Institutes of Health.

Binge drinking is also associated with severe liver inflammation, while years of heavy drinking could result in liver scarring or cirrhosis that degrades the organ's ability to function.

While health advisories used to err on the side of "a couple drinks are OK," the American Cancer Society's latest guidelines took a stricter stance. They said the healthiest choice is to not drink alcohol at all, as the substance has been linked to at least seven kinds of cancer.

Read the original article on Insider