Alcohol And The Immune System

NK cells are important because they play a role in natural immunity against tumor and infected cells. In fact, advanced aging is associated with functional impairment ofNK cells and increased susceptibility to nutritional deficiencies. Studies from human and experimental animals have proven that EtOH acts as a co-carcinogen, and suppression of the immune system has been considered as one mechanism by which EtOH could increase the incidence or progression of cancers [3], like Kaposi's sarcoma. A recent report regarding HIV-related cancers compared cancer incidences in Zimbabwe, Africa between 1990-1992 to those in 1993-1995. It showed an increase in the incidence ofKaposi's sarcoma with a doubling of the rates in both men and women. A significant increase in the incidence of squamous cell tumours, as well as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in women was also observed [4], Research shows a relationship between increased ethanol levels and a decrease in natural killer cells. Decreased natural killer (NK) activity is observed in cancer patients with EtOH consumption [5], Animal models clearly support an important role for NK cells in preventing the growth and metastasis of several types of cancers [6,7], Substances like epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are markedly increased in acute EtOH exposure, have also been associated with suppression ofNK-cell activity [8-10], Collectively, these observations suggest that NK cells may play an important role in resistance to EtOH-related cancers in humans.

Micronutrients affect the function ofNK cells as well. NK cell cytotoxicity is diminished in vitamin E and ubiquinone-10 deficiencies. Also, low plasma levels of selenium and zinc have been associated with total percentages ofNK cells [49],

Alterations of the immune system due to alcohol consumption have been a focus of multiple studies that have revealed impaired delayed-type hypersensitivity responses and ameliorated host defense against infections. Acute alcohol use has been associated with increased susceptibility to infections, posttrauma immunosuppression, and a decrease in antigen-specific T-cell proliferation response [13,16], Malnutrition and cirrhosis are two of the conditions that develop with chronic ethanol consumption that affect the efficiency of the immune system to combat infections [11,12], Ethanol influences the function of lymphocytes, monocytes and polymorphonuclear cells [13-15],

Lipid emulsions provided parentally have been associated with mononuclear phagocytic system functional changes. Supplementation with fish oil increases macrophage numbers as well as phagocytosis [17]. Glutamine-enriched diets influence the production ofTNF-a, IL-1, and IL-6. Studies in mice have concluded that glutamine enriched diets enhance the ability of macrophages to respond to cytokine stimulation, produced via the autocrine system [18].

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