Recently, a letterhead from a famous US Hospital, St. Luke’s, was seen circulating on some social media sites claiming that drinking alcohol, especially vodka, can help reduce your risk of getting COVID-19. The letter was dated March 7, 2020.
On March 11, St. Luke’s put up a post on their Facebook page explaining how the news is fake and they did not release any information or letter like that. “False reports are circulating that say drinking alcohol can reduce the risk of COVID-19. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Saint Luke’s follows CDC guidance,” the post read.
Neither the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), USA, nor the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said anything about the link between alcohol consumption and prevention of COVID-19. In fact, evidence suggests that alcohol actually weakens the ability of your immune system to fight against viral infections and makes you prone to pneumonia.
Here is what happens in your body when you drink alcohol.
As soon as the alcohol reaches your stomach, about 20% of it is absorbed into your bloodstream – more if you drink on an empty stomach. The rest of the alcohol gets absorbed from the small intestine, which has a much larger surface area for absorption.
Your liver metabolises all the alcohol in your body through two different enzymes – alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase. The first enzyme breaks down alcohol into an organic compound called acetaldehyde and then the aldehyde dehydrogenase further breaks down acetaldehyde into acetate.
Finally, the acetate gets converted to water and carbon dioxide. Both of which are excreted out of the body.
However, the speed at which your body can process alcohol depends on how much alcohol you have had. Your liver can only process one drink in an hour. If you binge drink, all the extra alcohol will keep on accumulating in your body and make you drunk.
Alcohol and your immunity
Studies show that if chronic drinking or acute binge drinking of vodka (40% ethanol) causes an increase in the number of bacteria in your body.
Alcohol can also impair the immune responses in your respiratory pathways, which increases your risk of getting respiratory infections. It reduces the number of white blood cells in your lungs, depletes zinc (a mineral which impacts the activity of macrophages, the white blood cells that fight viral infections amongst others), and increases the risk of inflammation.
This is why most alcoholics are prone to viral infections like flu and cytomegalovirus infection (mononucleosis).
The CDC only recommends topical use of alcohol, in the form of hand sanitizers, to prevent COVID-19, and that too when your hands are otherwise free of dirt. Otherwise, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and clean water.