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Loyola University Chicago researchers report that binge alcohol exposure significantly reduced levels of key components of the immune system involved in healing. People who are injured while binge drinking are much slower to heal according to the study, published as an April online "early view" for Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The new study is providing insights into why alcohol has such a negative effect on wound healing, linking, for the first time, binge alcohol exposure and a reduction in the amount of white blood cells (macrophages) that chew up bacteria and debris. This defect, in part, makes the wound more likely to be infected by bacteria, e.g. Staph infections..

Twenty to 40 percent of hospitalized patients – two admissions every minute – are from alcohol-related injuries or illnesses resulting from the disease of alcoholism. The study by senior author, Katherine A. Radek, and colleagues from Loyola's Alcohol Research Program and the Infectious Disease and Immunology Research Institute finds intoxication increases the risk of infections in the hospital, including surgical site infections.

Patients with surgical-site infections are hospitalized for twice as long, have a higher rate of re-admission and are twice as likely to die as patients who did not binge drink.

Binge alcohol also reduced levels of another key component of the immune system known as cathelicidin-related antimicrobial peptide, or CRAMP, in the Loyola rodent study. CRAMP is a type of small protein present in the skin which kills bacteria and recruits macrophages and other immune system cells to the wound site.

The report concluded, "Together these effects likely contribute to delayed wound closure and enhanced infection severity observed in intoxicated patients."

Earlier studies also connect alcohol use to slow healing from muscle sprains and other soft-tissue sports injuries (see related Examiner.com article). Also, according to research noted in recovery book, Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud, chronic alcohol use has been tied to compromising the entire immune system, not just infection-fighting around open wounds, for more than two decades. "Immune suppression makes you more susceptible to various infectious diseases, and theoretically to everything from STDs to cancer."

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