Does Drinking Alcohol Delay Healing?
Updated: Jun 25, 2020
At the time of writing this post, I listened to a speaker share his thoughts on alcohol sharing that it is poison to our body. He joked about how our culture has alcohol ingrained in our DNA. Humans have drank alcohol for thousands of years, and it is a hard thing to give up. To be honest, I would not have thought much about alcohol’s effect on healing. It sounded like it would have a minimal effect until I dove into the research.
So What Do We Know About Alcohol and Healing?
Dr. Kathy Jung is a researcher and PhD in Metabolism and Health who has studied alcohol's effects on the healing process and organ damage.
In 2011, Dr. Jung and authors discussed the effects of alcohol on healing (Link). Alcohol affects all of our organs and their related systems even with limited consumption. Alcohol is detrimental to normal healing processes. Abuse of alcohol is even worse.
Binge drinking is considered about 4-5 drinks for the average adult in a 2 hour period.
An episode of binge drinking can significantly decrease the rate of healing, increase infection rate, and decrease the quality of healing. Unfortunately, this negative effect lasts for several days after the event. More specifically, it changes our inflammatory process and signaling in our cells. We also understand that it negatively affects our muscle repair and muscle building process. However, we know that it doesn't take binge drinking to have a negative effect.
So rehabilitation can be disrupted with the alcohol consumption at this level. I’d caution that even a limited amount of alcohol is affecting our body and potentially slowing or impairing the healing process. Avoiding the consumption of alcohol is probably best or at the least limiting intake will benefit your healing process during the crucial early stages.
So does this mean you can't have alcohol during recovery?
No. This doesn't mean you have to stop drinking alcohol the first sign of injury. However, if you want to optimize the healing process, limiting alcohol or abstaining is probably best. The alcohol impairs the healing by changing the inflammation. In a future post, I'll talk about foods that increase inflammation in the body. There is an increasing amount of evidence suggesting that inflammation affects the overall health including potential relationships to diabetes, pain, and other chronic disease. Of course, when we are sick or injured, our nutrition plays a role in ideal healing.
If you're injured or sick, think twice about that second drink.
References: 1. Jung, M. Katherine, et al. “Alcohol Exposure and Mechanisms of Tissue Injury and Repair.” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, vol. 35, no. 3, 2010, pp. 392–399., doi:10.1111/j.1530-0277.2010.01356.x.
2. NIAAA Definition for Binge Drinking. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking