Everything we eat and drink can impact our immune systems. And although we can’t fully prevent ourselves from getting sick, we can still support our immune system by feeding our bodies a nutritious diet, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and managing our stress.
For example, there are key nutrients that can help support your immune system: “Vitamin C, zinc, vitamin D, probiotics, beta carotene, and protein,” says Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“All of these nutrients play a key role in supporting and keeping our immune system strong and healthy. And all of these nutrients can be found in eating a healthy eating pattern consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy sources. When we don’t get enough of these nutrients through food and drink each and every day, we are setting our immune system up to be compromised.”
We can harm our immune system not only by missing out on nutrients in our diet but also by adding certain foods and drinks to our diet that can seriously interfere with the efficacy of our body’s immune response.
And one of the worst drinks that can negatively impact your immune system is alcoholic drinks.
Why alcoholic drinks are the worst drinks for your immunity
There are multiple reasons why drinking alcohol in excess is associated with a weakened immune system.
Alcohol is dehydrating
“Alcohol can dehydrate you due to its diuretic properties, and that does not support a healthy and strong immune system,” says Ehsani.
READ MORE: 7 Side Effects of Not Drinking Enough Water
Alcohol can disrupt gut health
“When we drink alcohol, it first hits our gut where it gets absorbed and at the same time it damages our gut microbiome (healthy bacteria found in our gut) and disrupts our immune cells from working properly,” says Ehsani. “When both the gut microbiome and immune cells are disrupted, this can result in a weakened immune system susceptible to illnesses and disease.”
Sugary alcoholic drinks can interfere with immune cells
Of course, besides alcohol, many alcoholic drinks are also packed with sugar when crafting mixed drinks and cocktails.
“[Drinking high-sugar beverages can] further can negatively impact our immune system. Foods and drinks that raise our blood sugar (blood glucose) disrupt the production of immune cells and potentially inhibit them from working properly, resulting in low immunity,” says Ehsani.
Binge drinking can put a strain on your immune system
It’s also not beneficial for your immune system if you are drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol set by Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The daily recommendations for alcohol are no more than 1 drink a day for women, and no more than 2 drinks a day for men.
“However when we binge drink or drink heavily throughout the week, it can also impact our body’s ability to fight off infection and take longer for our body to recover too,” adds Ehsani.
What to drink instead
So what should you drink instead? Ehsani suggests a hot toddy, without the liquor! All the elements of a hot toddy minus the liquor make for an immune-supporting drink and here’s why according to Ehsani:
- Hot water: the base of a hot toddy is hot water, which we know is critical to our overall health and helps rid your body of waste products.
- Lemon juice: contains an excellent source of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant, which supports a healthy and strong immune system.
- Spices: unknown to many, but fresh and dried spices actually contain a high dose of antioxidant properties, which is helpful for reducing inflammation in our body and protects our immune system.
Instead of the liquor, she suggests using more hot water, a herbal tea bag, or a splash of orange juice for more vitamin C.
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“Drinking alcohol is okay in moderation, but binge drinking or drinking above the daily limits throughout the week, can affect your immune system, so be sure to stick to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans daily recommendations,” says Ehsani.
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