Alcohol and Pulmonary Fibrosis

Research Inconclusive Regarding Alcohol and Pulmonary Fibrosis

Pulmonary fibrosis occurs when lung tissue becomes damaged, then inflamed, then scarred. Many who suffer from pulmonary fibrosis have asked the question, “Can I drink alcohol after being diagnosed?” 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 deadly 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.

Guidot explains how alcohol indirectly affects a person’s lungs. “Heavy drinking and its relationship to lung disease is like driving on the highway without a seat belt,” Guidot said. “It’s risky behavior, but it doesn’t cause injury unless you get in an accident. Alcohol doesn’t cause lung disease unless you get sick; then the lungs are less able to respond to the challenges of infection.”

In conclusion, while you can drink alcohol in moderation if you have been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, heavy drinking poses significant risk. If you have been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis and are still drinking heavily, please rethink how drinking could be causing significant damage to your lungs.

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