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The #1 Worst Drinking Habit That Weakens Immunity, Says Dietitian

A registered dietitian explains how consuming one particular beverage in excess may suppress your immune system.
FACT CHECKED BY Olivia Tarantino

While the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 has slightly slowed in the United States, according to the latest data, it's imperative to regularly make conscious efforts to support your immune system. Though the frequency in which you enjoy your favorite alcoholic drink could be putting you in harm's way.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that getting the COVID-19 vaccination is the best way to protect yourself from experiencing moderate to severe complications of the Delta variant. Still, there's more you can do to prepare your body for sickness. After all, a particularly brutal flu season may be upon us, as two new studies indicate.

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Aside from eating a diet rich in plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, you can support your immune system through the types of beverages you consume, too. The research on alcohol consumption and how that affects the immune system is mixed. In fact, some older studies suggest that moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages rich in antioxidants, such as wine, could be beneficial for the immune system.

More recent research, however, has shown that heavy alcohol consumption, or alcohol abuse, could directly suppress a wide range of immune responses, making you more susceptible to illness. In other words, the one drinking habit that could be weakening your immunity is excessive drinking, although, perhaps not directly.

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"Drinking alcohol won't necessarily weaken your immune system, and neither will consumption of sugary drinks," says Vanessa Rissetto, MS, RD, CDN, and co-founder of Culina Health. "However, if you're an alcoholic, then you aren't absorbing B vitamins, which could open you up to deficiencies, along with the fact that you are probably not eating a diet of fruits, veggies, and other immune-boosting foods."

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Heavy drinking for men is defined by the CDC as consuming 15 drinks or more per week. For women, it's typically eight drinks or more. According to the most recent USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate drinking looks like two alcoholic beverages (or less) per day for men and one drink daily for women.

To Rissetto's point, if you're excessively drinking alcohol, it's likely that you aren't consuming a diet that's rich in nutrients, which could make a more devastating impact on your immune system than alcohol alone. She says the same concept applies to over-consuming sugary beverages such as soda, energy drinks, and juices that contain a lot of added sugars.

"If you over-consume juice or soda then how good is your overall diet," she questions.

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Cheyenne Buckingham
Cheyenne Buckingham is the news editor of Read more about Cheyenne