Alcohol and Lung Disease

Research Regarding Alcohol and Lung Disease is Inconclusive

Many who suffer from lung disease have asked the question, “Can I drink alcohol if I have a degenerative lung disease?” Some research has been done on the subject, but it has been difficult to come to a solid conclusion as to whether or not alcohol is harmful for a person suffering from lung disease. “This is a new area of interest, but so far the studies we have aren’t consistent,” says Bohdan Pichurko, MD, a pulmonary specialist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. One thing that all researchers can agree on, however, is that prolonged heavy drinking, is detrimental to one’s health, with or without lung disease.

According to an article in About Health, chronic drinking alone does not directly result in lung damage, rather, drinking coupled with oxidative stress causes damage to a person’s lungs. Oxidative stress occurs when a person is exposed to cigarette smoke, air pollution or dangerous chemicals. Drinking alcohol reduces your lungs’ capacity to handle these airway irritants, which is what makes drinking and smoking together so dangerous. An article published by Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reveals that heavy drinking over a long period of time can predispose someone to develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). ARDS is a lung disease that typically stems from a sickness or bodily trauma. Heavy drinkers are at a greater risk for developing ARDS.

Increased Risk of ARDS

Drinking alcohol increases a person’s risk for ARDS because it greatly reduces the amount of the antioxidant glutathione in a person’s lungs. According to an article by Emory University, the less glutathione a person has in their lungs, the more difficult it is for the body to transfer oxygen from the lungs to the bloodstream. This puts a person at risk for ARDS. ARDS is a serious disease that can result in death. In the article, David Guidot, director of the Emory Alcohol and Lung Biology Center at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) notes that more alcoholics actually die from lung damage over liver damage.

However, studies have shown that wine consumption, in moderation, can actually improve lung function in people without lung disease. In an article published by Everyday Health, Brian W. Carlin, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Drexel University School of Medicine in Philadelphia and immediate past chairman of the COPD Alliance stated, “Those who drank a moderate amount of wine had higher lung volumes and had a lower risk of airway obstruction.” A study found that those who drank 1-2 drinks a night were 25% less likely to be hospitalized than those who didn’t.

Moderation is Key

The key, then, seems to be moderation. Drinking heavily with our without lung disease can be very harmful to your health, whereas drinking a glass of wine does have some health benefits. If you choose to consume alcohol, as long as you do so in moderation, based on recent studies, you should not put yourself at significant risk for lung disease.

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